Why people get mad at the media (part ll) Why won't the New York Times/Santa Rosa Press Democrat run the Project Censored stories when it continues to use anonymous sources to push the Bush line that Iran is providing "lethal support:" to Iraq Shiites?


By Bruce B. Brugmann

As attentive Bruce blog readers recall, I raised the issue in previous blogs why the New York Times and its sister paper in Santa Rosa (the Press Democrat) has for 30 years refused to run the local Project Censored story from the local Sonoma State University.

I pointed out that the issue was particularly timely because on Sept. l0, 2003, while the Times and the PD and affiliated papers were running the disgraced Judith Miller's stories making the case for the Iraq War and then seeking to justify it, the Guardian published the annual Project Censored list of censored, or underreporterd stories in the mainstream press. I further pointed out that our front page had a caricature of Bush, standing astride the globe holding a U.S. flag with a dollar sign, and a headline that read, "The neocon plan for global domination--and nine other big stories the mainstream press refused to cover in 2002."

And I noted that our introduction to the timely censored package made the critical point: "If there's one influence that has shaped world-wide politics over the past year, it's the extent to which the Bush administration has exploited the events of Sept. ll, 200l, to solidify its military and economic control of the world at the expense of democracy, true justice, and the environment. But President George W. Bush hasn't simply been responding to world events. The agenda the administration has followed fits perfectly with a clearly defined plan that's been place for a decade."

I noted that the neocon story, and the many other such stories that Project Censored put out during the war years and again this year, laying out the dark side of the Bush administration and the drumbeat to war in Iraq, got no play in the Times or the nearby PD and very little play in the rest of the mainstream media that helped Bush march us into war--and now is keeping us there.

Not once, in all of the past three decades, has the Times nor the PD run the Project Censored story nor explained why. And they refused to respond to my repeated questions on this point.

That was the backdrop for the Feb. l0 Times lead story, :"Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says."
I was astounded when I read the story because it made the most serious and incendiary charges without once naming a source by name. Fair, the media group for fair and accuracy in reporting, said in a Feb. l6 report that
"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 Feb. l0, promoting Bush administration charges against Iran, violated those rules."

Fair said that reporter Michael 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.'" Fair goes on, and even quotes Editor & Publisher, a trade magazine, as saying that Gordon "aimed to quiet the skeptics, cited only the following sources: 'American officials'...'one military official'...military officials'...'American officials'...American military officicials.,'"

FAir also made the critical point about the similarity between current times reporting hyping the Iran threat and the paper's "credulous" prewar Iran reporting are not coincidental. Gordon, Fair pointed out, was the co-author, along with Miller, of two of six stories singled oiut in the paper's May 26 2004 apology for faulty Iraq reporting, including the Times story that falsely touted the now-famous "aluminum tubes" as components of an Iraqi nuclar weapons program.

The critical questions: why in the hell, after all that has gone down on Iraq and Times reporting, has the Times violated its own rules on anonymous sources without explanation and without apology?
I have often wondered through the years how Guardian could be right on Vietnam and right on Iraq, without any hotshot sources or intelligence reports, and the New York Times and other mainstream media were so wrong for so long and are still wrong (we can't pull out now, chaos will occur, Iran is the problem, etc.) Every time I read stories like these, I know why.

For starters, if I were responsible for Times coverage, I would tell my reporters to refuse to attend a "press conference" or "press briefing" mandating anonymity. Instead, I would tell them to stay away and to interview the reporters and principals later and do a full story with full identification and make the critical Project Censored type points. Or do a Fair type critique after the fact. So what if you miss yet another self-immolating Iraq weapons story. If I ran an alternative paper in Washington, D.C., I would cover all those anonymous briefings and press conferences by not going and then reporting on who did go, who wrote what, what it added up to, and then put it in the context of non-embedded and non -mission accomplished reporting. I would concentrate on the stories the Times/PD and other mainstream press censored.

Fair's concluding point: In his original February l0 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?"

Further questions: shouldn't the Times/PD, given its wartime record, publish the Project Censored story and its prescient group of stories that happened to be largely on target year after year? Shouldn't the Times/PD explain to the Censored director and to the Guardian why it refuses to do so? Repeating: neither the project directors (founder Carl Jensen, current director Peter Phillips) have ever been given a reason and I cannot get one either.

Fair recommends action: contact 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. And: from the Guardian and me: ask Calame, as I have in vain, why the Times/PD won't run Project Censored and won't say why?

New York Times: Byron Calame, public editor, public@nytimes.com, phone: (2l2) 556-7652. Good luck, let me know what happens. B3

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