NYT 'Mystery' Op-Ed Calls for More Afghan Civilian Deaths

On Thursday the New York Times made an astonishing editorial
choice, for which its editors owe the public an explanation: it
published an op-ed by an obscure and poorly identified author
attacking General Stanley McChrystal for his directive last July that
air strikes in Afghanistan be authorized only under "very limited and
prescribed conditions." The op-ed denounced an "overemphasis on
civilian protection" and charged that "air support to American and
Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian
casualties."

The author of the op-ed,
Lara M. Dadkhah, is identified by the Times merely as "an
intelligence analyst." In the body of the op-ed, the author identifies
herself as "employed by a defense consulting company," without telling
us which company, or what her relationship might be to actors who
stand to lose financially if the recognition that killing civilians is
bad for the United States were to affect expenditures by the United
States military.

As Glenn
Greenwald asks
in Salon:

What defense consulting company employs her? Do they have
any ties to the war effort? Do they benefit from the grotesque
policies she's advocating? What type of "analyst" is she? Who
knows... it's virtually impossible to find any information about "Lara
Dadkhah" using standard Internet tools.

The use of anonymous and under-disclosed sources by the New York
Times
is an issue of longstanding dispute. The newspaper has written
policies
on the use of anonymous and poorly-identified sources -
policies which it does not always follow, as the Times' Public
Editor has documented.

That policy concerns news sources, and so the Times may argue
that since this is an op-ed, different standards apply. But to claim
that there are not very similar issues here would be to dodge
responsibility. The New York Times does not publish op-eds
randomly; it does not publish op-eds questioning whether the Nazis
systematically murdered European Jews or whether the Bush
Administration blew up the World Trade Center. The Times makes
editorial choices about what is worthy. Publishing this op-ed was a
choice: publishing an op-ed attacking General McChrystal's efforts to
reduce Afghan civilian casualties was a choice; publishing one by an
unknown and under-identified author who may have a financial interest
in promoting the aggressive use of airpower without regard to civilian
casualties was also a choice. The New York Times' editors
should be prepared to defend these choices, particularly given the
unique role the Times exercises in influencing national
political debate, both by influencing the choices of other media and
by influencing the perceptions of government officials. If the
Times' editors are not willing to defend those choices, then
the status of the New York Times as a "watchdog" of
"accountability" is something that fair-minded people should take a
lot less seriously.

You can ask the New York Times' Public Editor to investigate
these concerns here.

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