James Moore: Bang the Drum Loudly: The Failed Journalism That Sent America to War in Iraq
The timing was a thing of pure political beauty. President George W. Bush was only a few days away from speaking to the United Nations’ General Assembly about Iraq’s renewed efforts to acquire banned weaponry. And, in a month, the president was going to Congress to seek a resolution approving of a war against Iraq. A Sunday morning story, September 8, 2002, in the New York Times made the U.N. speech and the congressional debate much easier for the White House.
Under the headline, “Threats and Responses: The Iraqis; U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts,” a 3,603 word story by Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller detailed the administration’s case against Saddam Hussein related to weapons of mass destruction.
Of course, that’s not the way journalism really works. Otherwise, reporters could easily be replaced with stenographers and people to read and publish e-mail news releases. Actually, if Miller had spoken to one of the various scientific organizations when she wrote the first story, including the leading groups in her own country, she would have learned there was almost no chance the tubes were going into a centrifuge. Her list of interview subjects needed to include contradictory voices and opinions on the uses of the aluminum tubes. There was certainly plenty of them out there.
Miller and Gordon’s inability to find a divergent opinion in a city full of political minds, scientists, and think tanks, has remained a perplexing mystery among their colleagues.
The White House had mixed up journalists’ ambitions with misleading intelligence and brewed up a myth that yielded a powerful national belief in its illusion.