On Way Out, Okrent Knocks ‘N.Y. Times’ WMD and Civilian Casualty Coverage

By: E&P Staff

About to be liberated from his duties at The New York Times, outgoing Public Editor Daniel Okrent, who was critical of the paper’s pre-Iraq war coverage but in a measured way, spoke more bluntly in an interview with Salon.com this week.

Okrent said the Times did “a lousy job on WMD,” and, while it was “not consciously evil,” it was “bad journalism, even very bad journalism.”

Asked if the Judith Miller-led distortions on WMD has proven more destructive than the sins of ex-reporter Jayson Blair, Okrent responded: “I don’t know if I could speak to comparative sins. It certainly was a very serious case of bad journalism. It was not, to the best of my ability to determine, a case of ‘I know we’re lying as I write this,’ which Jayson Blair was. Here was a guy consciously plagiarizing. Here was a guy who meant to break the rules. The Times did a lousy job on WMD, but I can’t imagine there was anybody in the office saying: ‘Let’s make up some things.'”

Asked if the Times made a mistake in not disciplining Miller, Okrent replied: “I don’t know that one can say she wasn’t disciplined. They don’t reveal personnel matters to me. For all I know, she was disciplined. For all anyone knows, she was disciplined. Only Judith Miller and Times management know for sure.”

And what about the famous Times editors’ note that promised aggressive coverage of the WMD misinformation campaign to partially make up for its original lapses? “There was one really good long piece by Michael Gordon,” Okrent replied. “But I don’t think it was enough. I think they could have done more.”

In another area, asked if the Times has reported aggressively enough on civilian casualties in Iraq, Okrent answered, “No. I think on civilian casualties they could do more. It’s actually something I’ve discussed with the editors involved. They’re aware of it, and I’m hopeful that there will be more reporting on that.”

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