NY Times Ombudsmen Finally Criticizes Paper

On Iraqi election weekend, NY Times reporter Judith Miller appeared on Hardball and said that the Bush Administration was reaching out to Ahmad Chalabi and had "even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government." At that point, Matthews exclaimed: Wait, didn't Iraq just have an election; why are we offering someone a position in the new government. At which point, Miller hemmed. The backdoor dealings between Bush and Chalabi didn't appear in print in the NYT, so NY Times Public Editor Okrent properly asks, why? Here's his account:

LAST Sunday, Times reporter Judith Miller appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews" to discuss the Iraqi elections. In the course of the conversation Miller said sources had told her the Bush administration "has been reaching out" to the Iraqi political figure Ahmad Chalabi "to offer him expressions of cooperation." She continued, "According to one report, he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government." This led Matthews to interrupt Miller, exclaim "Wait a minute!" and press her to elaborate.

. . . [T]o anyone who has tried to follow the jagged contours of Ahmed Chalabi's connections to the Bush administration, Miller's statement was a shocker. This piece of news hadn't appeared in The Times that morning; it didn't appear in The Times the next morning; as I write this column, on Friday, it still hasn't appeared. A lengthy analysis of the election aftermath by reporter Dexter Filkins, published Tuesday, didn't even hint of any current contact between Chalabi and the Bush administration.

. . . Judging by their absence from the paper, one must conclude that either Miller's Chalabi revelations were wrong or unsubstantiated or that The Times is suppressing an important piece of news. If the first, the paper has suffered a blow to its credibility: Matthews introduced Miller as "an investigative reporter for The New York Times." The ID on the screen said "Judith Miller, 'The New York Times'." At five separate points in the show Matthews invoked her connection to The Times, as any host would.

If there's an act of suppression going on, the price is of course incalculable. But I don't remotely think that is the case. I've been able to determine with a very high degree of confidence that editors in the two departments most likely to have an interest in Miller's Chalabi assertions were unaware of them. (Miller was away from New York this week, and did not respond to messages I left on her office phone, her cellphone, and on e-mail. Executive editor Bill Keller declined to discuss the matter. "I'm sorry to be unhelpful on this one, but Judy faces a serious danger of being sent to jail for protecting a confidential source," Keller told me in an e-mail message. "I think this is not the time to be drawn into unrelated public discussions of Judy.")

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