‘NY Times’ Admits ‘Mistakes’ in Iraq War Editorials

By: E&P Staff

Less than two months after it published a lengthy editors’ note correcting some of its coverage about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, The New York Times said on its editorial page this morning that it was time to be “candid” about its “mistakes” during the run-up to the war.

Saying it had been a part of “groupthink,” the paper in a highly unusual editorial titled “A Pause for Hindsight” admitted it had not questioned the existence of WMD in Iraq before the war strongly enough, partly because it “did not listen carefully” to those who raised those doubts. And, the editorial added, it “should have been more aggressive in helping our readers understand that there was always a possibility that no large stockpiles existed.”

Although the paper did express serious misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, “we regret now that we didn’t do more to challenge the president’s assumptions. … Just as we cannot undo the invasion,” the editorial continued, “we cannot pretend that it was a good idea — even if it had been well carried out.”

Catherine Mathis, a Times spokeswoman, would not discuss how the editorial came about. “We don’t talk about the process,” she said, adding that the paper “lets the editorials speak for themselves. We will print letters to the editor that we receive on this topic.” Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins and Deputy Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal were both out Friday. Executive Editor Bill Keller could not be reached for comment.

The Times framed the editorial with this opening: “Over the last few months, this page has repeatedly demanded that President Bush acknowledge the mistakes his administration made when it came to the war in Iraq, particularly its role in misleading the American people about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and links with Al Qaeda. If we want Mr. Bush to be candid about his mistakes, we should be equally open about our own.”

It then admitted that it had agreed with the president on the “critical point” that “Saddam Hussein was concealing a large weapons program that could pose a threat to the United States or its allies. We repeatedly urged the United Nations Security Council to join with Mr. Bush and force Iraq to disarm.”

While noting that it was “a reasonable theory” that Saddam was guilty as charged, “we do fault ourselves for failing to deconstruct the WMD issue with the kind of thoroughness we directed at the question of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, or even tax cuts in time of war. We did not listen carefully to the people who disagreed with us. Our certainty flowed from the fact that such an overwhelming majority of government officials, past and present, top intelligence officials and other experts were sure that the weapons were there. We had a groupthink of our own. …

“Saddam Hussein was indisputably a violent and vicious tyrant, but an unprovoked attack that antagonized the Muslim world and fractured the international community of peaceful nations was not the solution. There were, and are, equally brutal and potentially more dangerous dictators in power elsewhere. Saddam Hussein and his rotting army were not a threat even to the region, never mind to the United States. …

“Congress would never have given President Bush a blank check for military action if it had known that there was no real evidence that Iraq was likely to provide aid to terrorists or was capable of inflicting grave damage on our country or our allies. Many politicians who voted to authorize the war still refuse to admit that they made a mistake. But they did. And even though this page came down against the invasion, we regret now that we didn’t do more to challenge the president’s assumptions.”

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