Paper pushes Iran threat with one-sided array of unnamed officials
In the wake of its disastrous pre-war reporting on Iraq, the New York Times implemented new rules governing its use of unnamed sources. Its lead story on February 10, promoting Bush administration charges against Iran, violated those rules.
In the report, "Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says," Times reporter Michael R. Gordon cited a one-sided array of anonymous sources charging the Iranian government with providing a particularly deadly variety of roadside bomb to Shia militias in Iraq: "The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran." According to Gordon:
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing "lethal support" to Shiite militants in Iraq.Repeatedly citing the likes of "administration officials," "American intelligence" and "Western officials," the article used unnamed sources four times as often as named ones. Only one source in Gordon’s report challenged the official claims: Iranian United Nations ambassador Javad Zarif, who was allowed a one-sentence denial of Iranian government involvement..
On the central charge of the article--that the Iranian government is providing the weapons to Shia militias in Iraq--not a single source was named. Instead, Gordon offered a peculiar, seemingly second-hand citation of an intelligence document:
Five days after his original report, Gordon published another story ("Why Accuse Iran of Meddling Now? U.S. Officials Explain," 2/15/07) that defended the Bush administration against critics' charges they were publicizing two-year-old charges in order to establish pretexts for attacking Iran, or to blame Iran for coalition failures in Iraq. Once again, Gordon's follow-up piece was almost totally dependent on unnamed sources. As Editor & Publisher put it (2/15/07), Gordon, "aim[ing] to quiet the skeptics, cit[ed] only the following sources: 'American officials'…. 'one military official'…'military officials' …'American officials'…'American military officials.'"
An American intelligence assessment described to the New York Times said that "as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy--approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force--to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets." The reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out paramilitary operations abroad.
In his original February 10 report, Gordon wrote, "Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims." While "critics" are surely skeptical, shouldn’t reporters for the New York Times, given their recent record on similar matters, be even more so?
ACTION: Please contact New York Times public editor Byron Calame and urge him to look into why the paper's rules about anonymity are not applied to Michael Gordon--especially considering how Gordon's pre-Iraq War reporting embarrassed the Times.
New York Times
Byron Calame, Public Editor
Phone: (212) 556-7652 .
I'm happy to shill for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), anytime!