In the lead-up to the Iraq War, Michael Gordon of The New York Times wrote one of the most discredited, journalistically irresponsible, and damaging articles of the last decade -- a September 8, 2002, front-page article, co-authored with Judy Miller, which, in the first sentence, "reported" that "Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today." The article continued: "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes."
On the day that article was published, Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press and he specifically cited Gordon and Miller's article as "evidence" that Saddam was pursuing nuclear weapons:
MR. RUSSERT: What, specifically, has [Saddam] obtained that you believe would enhance his nuclear development program? . . .
VICE PRES. CHENEY: The third thing you need is fissile material, weapons-grade material. Now, in the case of a nuclear weapon, that means either plutonium or highly enriched uranium. And what we've seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest, if you will, if I can put it in those terms, is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.
MR. RUSSERT: Aluminum tubes.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Specifically aluminum tubes. There's a story in The New York Times this morning-this is -- I don't -- and I want to attribute The Times. I don't want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it's now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge . . .
The Gordon/Miller article was singled out for criticism by the Times itself when, in 2004, it issued its infamous (and incomplete) "From the Editors" mea culpa criticizing its own war coverage. The "Editors" admitted that the assertions by the intelligence community on which the Gordon-Miller article was based "should have been presented more cautiously" and that the "hints" which undermined those assertions "were buried deep, 1,700 words into a 3,600-word article." Worst of all:
Administration officials were allowed to hold forth at length on why this evidence of Iraq's nuclear intentions demanded that Saddam Hussein be dislodged from power: "The first sign of a 'smoking gun,' they argue, may be a mushroom cloud."
Moreover, five days later, Miller and Gordon "learned that the tubes were in fact a subject of debate among intelligence agencies" but only noted those reservations "deep in an article on Page A13, under a headline that gave no inkling that we were revising our earlier view."
While much of the press, including Gordon's own paper, has claimed to recognize the mistakes it made in the run-up to the war in Iraq -- specifically, their excessively gullible conveyance of unproven assertions from anonymous Bush officials -- Gordon seems to have learned nothing. Quite the contrary, he is engaging in the same behavior while he "reports" on (and supports) the administration's efforts to inflame public sentiment towards Iran.
On Saturday, The New York Times published a front page story by Gordon which did nothing other than mindlessly convey highly provocative (and completely unproven) claims by anonymous Bush officials that "the most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iran is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran."
As I documented on Saturday (as did Juan Cole and others), Gordon's article replicated every mistake made by the media which enabled the administration to deceive the country with respect to the "threat" posed by Iraq -- specifically, it granted anonymity to Bush officials to make highly dubious, war-inflaming claims, and then simply passed those claims along on the front page with no scrutiny or investigation, and without any mention of the ample evidence which undermines those claims.
Not only does Gordon not recognize any flaws in his past reporting, he seems to lash out angrily at any criticism of his work. As a result of the attention which Saturday's article received in the blogosphere, many blog readers wrote to Gordon to criticize him for uncritically passing on government claims concerning Iran. One blog reader -- a young New York journalist -- wrote the following polite and substantive e-mail to Gordon on Saturday:
Your article today is a shameless reiteration of what may very be administration propaganda. Please, in your next article, make an attempt to verify administration claims somewhere, anywhere else. As a young journalist, I find your work discouraging for the profession as a whole. I'm sure it's a great deal of work to get the administration to give you quotes off the record supporting their policy du jour, but can you please take the time to fact check it? Just a little bit please? For the sake of your paper's reputation, I hope you do. Cheers, [name withheld]
This was Gordon's petulant, patronizing, and wholly non-responsive reply:
I suggest you embed in Iraq for a few months, live with the troops, ride in their Humvees, learn about the risk of EFP attacks, then spend several months asking military and Western experts about the technology, the tactics for employing them and its origin. Let me know what you learn and we'll compare notes.
Gordon's reply, aside from being arrogant and rude, is a complete non sequitur. Mindlessly passing along anonymous government claims is shoddy journalism, particularly in light of the damage such journalism unleashed on the country prior to the Iraq invasion (and after). That is true whether or not a reporter has ridden in Humvees with troops. And Gordon's appeal to rank credentialism -- "spend several months asking military and Western experts about the technology . . . Let me know what you learn and we'll compare notes" -- borders on the incoherent. Gordon's article, mindlessly echoing what the Bush administration has told him, evinces no expertise at all -- except in the field of stenography.
Moreover, numerous journalists have made unequivocally clear that the type of "journalism" which characterizes Gordon's front-page article is not real journalism at all. Actual journalists investigate the claims made by the government and subject them to scrutiny. They do not simply offer themselves up as a Pravda-like megaphone to amplify government claims ("Bush officials said" -- "a senior administration official disclosed yesterday" -- "military officials told the Times" -- "Deadliest Bomb In Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says").
And indeed, several of Gordon's colleagues -- including in his own newspaper -- published stories on the Bush administration's efforts to blame Iran for fueling the insurgency that displayed far more skepticism, inquiry and critical faculties than the Glorified Bush Press Release masquerading as a front page New York Times article which Gordon churned out. And some national journalists, such as The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin, even cited the critiques of bloggers to argue that Gordon's journalism here was woefully lacking, to put it generously.
But Gordon's condescending reply to the reader is nothing new for him. In a rather extraordinary interview with Gordon (along with his co-author Bernard Trainor) conducted last year by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, Gordon repeatedly lashed out at her -- just as arrogantly and snidely -- when she asked about his "reporting" on the aluminum tubes. When she suggested that his reporting was too uncritical (just as his own paper admitted), Gordon snapped:
I don't know if you understand how journalism works, but the way journalism works is you write what you know, and what you know at the time you try to convey as best you can. . . .
He also repeatedly interrupted her to defend himself, telling her "you're not well-informed on this issue" and refusing to admit the slightest error in what he did. He continuously attributed criticisms to Goodman's ignorance, and (just as he did in the e-mail this weekend), pointedly noted: "I was embedded throughout this period in Baghdad."
There is much energy and attention devoted to analyzing why our national media is so dysfunctional and why it enables so many of the worst excesses of this administration. There are numerous explanations for that, but one that ought not be overlooked is simple arrogance. Some national journalists simply believe that they are immune from criticism because they are more knowlegeable and wiser than their critics. Apparently, that arrogance even finds a home in the mind of the author of several of the most destructive pieces of pre-Iraq-war journalism. Gordon not only appears to believe that he did nothing wrong, but more astonishingly, continues to view those who voice criticism of his work with unadulterated scorn.
For that reason, just like the criticism-intolerant President whose war policies Gordon enabled (and continues to enable), Gordon refuses to change course in any way. Although he is now writing without Judy Miller, he is clearly carrying on their journalistic practices as the President now eyes military confrontation with the mullahs in Tehran.
UPDATE: As Atrios notes, Gordon is not only journalistically sloppy in service of the Bush administration's war policies, but was also recently admonished by the Times Washington Bureau Chief for going on the Charlie Rose Show and expressly advocating the President's "surge" plan. According to his editor, Gordon, with his pro-surge comments, "stepped over the line" and "went too far." It is worth remembering that some journalists are so uncritical of the administration's statements not only because doing so is the easiest path or because it secures them greater access. Some are just outright adherents to the President's militaristic worldview.