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Gary Younge
New York Times admits failures in run-up to war

In a 1,200-word article signed From the Editors, one of America's most prestigious newspapers wrote: "Looking back, we wish we had been more aggres sive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged - or failed to emerge."

The paper is particularly critical of its dependence on Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles "bent on regime change in Iraq - people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks". Chief among them, the editors concede, was Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favourite, whose offices in Iraq were raided last week after he fell out of favour.

"Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organisations - in particular, this one," the editors write.

The article marks the end of a troubled 12 months for the paper, which lost its editor and his deputy last June after a scandal over the deceptions of a young reporter, Jayson Blair.

Yesterday's note said that no individual was to blame for the mistakes, insisting that the "problem was more complicated", involving unchalleng ing editors and a lack of scepticism from those "too intent on rushing scoops into the paper".

However, of the five articles it singles out for their misleading content, three bear the byline of Judith Miller, the paper's bioterrorism expert. On September 8 2002, in a joint byline story with Michael Gordon, Miller wrote a front page article headlined US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts. The story claimed Iraq had tried to import thousands of high-strength aluminium tubes to produce en riched uranium and, eventually, an atomic weapon.

Administration officials were quoted as saying: "The first sign of a 'smoking gun' ... may be a mushroom cloud."

"In the following months," wrote Michael Massing, in an article for New York Review criticising Miller and the Times coverage, "the tubes would become a key prop in the administration's case for war, and the Times played a critical part in legitimising it."

"It should have been pre sented more cautiously," the Times conceded yesterday. "Administration officials were allowed to hold forth at length on why this evidence of Iraq's nuclear intentions demanded that Saddam Hussein be dislodged from power."

When misgivings within the intelligence agencies emerged about the tubes, the stories were run on page 13. Miller did not return requests to comment on her reporting.

The American media establishment, now lambasted by conservatives for its coverage of the failures of the occupation, was long under fire from liberals for the manner in which it reported the run-up to the war and its apparently uncritical acceptance of the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

"This is one of the great journalistic mass delusions of the era," said Michael Wolff, a media commentator and columnist for Vanity Fair.

In an examination of unsigned editorials for the Columbia Journalism Review, Chris Mooney looked at the US media's response to Colin Pow ell's presentation on WMD before the UN security council last year.

"The US papers all pronounced Powell right, though they couldn't possibly know for sure that he was. In short, they trusted him. And in so doing, they failed to bring even an elementary scepticism to the Bush case for war."

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