WASHINGTON - The Washington Post became the latest prestigious US newspaper to question its own coverage of Iraq leading up to the US-led war, saying it underplayed stories questioning White House claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
"Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday," said Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks.
Across the country, the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones. We didn't pay enough attention to the minority.
Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr
The Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, shown here in April 2004 on on NBC's Meet the Press. The Washington Post became the latest prestigious US newspaper to question its own coverage of Iraq leading up to the US-led war. (AFP/Getty Images/Alex Wong)
"There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?" he added.
In retrospect, said Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale.
"Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part."
In the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion, there were persistent doubts about intelligence reports underpinning White House contentions that Iraq posed a threat because it was hiding weapons of mass destruction and had links with international terrorist organizations.
No chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been found in Iraq since then, and US investigators have dismissed any serious contacts between Saddam Hussein's regime and international terrorists.
In the aftermath of the war, the US media in general has been criticized for lacking objectivity in its coverage of the Bush administration's drive to punish Baghdad.
"We did our job, but we didn't do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder," Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward said in an interview.
"We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for (the war) was shakier" than widely believed, he said. "Those are exactly the kind of statements that should be published on the front page."
In May, The New York Times issued a similar critique of its coverage in the run-up to the war, saying administration claims were published with insufficient doubt.
"Some of the Times's coverage in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq was credulous; much of it was inappropriately italicized by lavish front-page display and heavy-breathing headlines," Public Editor Daniel Okrent said at the time.
Okrent's column came four days after the Times's editors printed their own mea culpa, admitting the newspaper was taken in by spurious information from Iraqi exiles -- especially over the issue of weapons of mass destruction -- with their own agenda to oust Saddam Hussein.
Okrent cited instances in which reporters who raised substantive questions about certain stories were not heeded, while others with substantial knowledge of the subject at hand seemed not to have been given the chance to express reservations.
"Times reporters broke many stories before and after the war -- but when the stories themselves later broke apart, in many instances Times readers never found out," he said. "Some remain scoops to this day. This is not a compliment."
© Copyright 2004 AFP