If you want to know when the press went wrong, Septemper 8 2002 works

wikileaks by Abode of Chaos

From Judith Miller to Julian Assange
[Via Pressthink]

Our press somehow got itself on the wrong side of secrecy after September 11th.

For the portion of the American press that still looks to Watergate and the Pentagon Papers for inspiration, and that considers itself a check on state power, the hour of its greatest humiliation can, I think, be located with some precision: it happened on Sunday, September 8, 2002.

On that morning the New York Times published a now notorious story, reported by Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller, in which nameless Bush Administration officials claimed that Iraq was trying to buy the kind of aluminum tubes necessary to build a nuclear centrifuge. Press critic Michael Massing, who in 2004 reviewed these events, describes what happened:

Gordon and Miller argue that the information about the aluminum tubes was not a leak. “The administration wasn’t really ready to make its case publicly at the time,” Gordon told me. “Somebody mentioned to me this tubes thing. It took a lot to check it out.” Perhaps so, but administration officials were clearly delighted with the story. On that morning’s talk shows, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all referred to the information in the Times story. “It’s now public,” Cheney said on Meet the Press, that Saddam Hussein “has been seeking to acquire” the “kind of tubes” needed to build a centrifuge to produce highly enriched uranium, “which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb.” On CNN’s Late Edition, Rice said the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.” She added: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”—a phrase lifted directly from the Times.

We know from retrospective accounts that the Bush White House had already decided to go to war. We know from the Downing Street Memo that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” We know that the Bush forces had decided to rev up their sales campaign that week because ”from a marketing point of view you don’t introduce new products in August,” as chief of staff Andrew Card brazenly put it. We know that the appearance of the tubes story in the Times is what allowed Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice to run with it on the Sunday shows, because without that they would have been divulging classified information and flouting their own rules. We also know that the tubes story was wrong: they weren’t for centrifuges. And yet it was coming from the very top of the professional pyramid, the New York Times. Massing again:


I think that when history books remark on this period, they will focus on the willful collusion of the press and the government. Miller says her job is simply to tell people what the government is thinking, even if it is wrong and she knows it. Gordon says it is good writing because it reflects the views of the government, at least the ones they told him. Apparently being open open conduit for any information the government wanted to feed them was what their job was.

This continues today. The lack of concern for their readers and for publishing anything resembling truth is one reason their balance sheets are going down the tubes. As Doc Searls writes, we no longer have a watchdog press. Maybe a watchdog web will replace it.