My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror
My experience with [some] stor[ies] [...] made me much less willing to go along with later government requests to hold or kill stories. And that ultimately set me on a collision course with the editors at the New York Times, who were still quite willing to cooperate with the government.
By 2002, I was also starting to clash with the editors over our coverage of the Bush administration’s claims about pre-war intelligence on Iraq. My stories raising questions about the intelligence, particularly the administration’s claims of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, were being cut, buried, or held out of the paper altogether.
Meanwhile, #Judy_Miller, an intense reporter who was based in New York but had sources at the highest levels of the Bush administration, was writing story after story that seemed to document the existence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Her stories were helping to set the political agenda in Washington.
After weeks of reporting in late 2002 and early 2003, I was able to get enough material to start writing stories that revealed that intelligence analysts were skeptical of the Bush administration’s evidence for going to war, particularly the administration’s assertions that there were links between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda.
But after I filed the first story, it sat in the Times computer system for days, then weeks, untouched by editors. I asked several editors about the story’s status, but no one knew.
Finally, the story ran, but it was badly cut and buried deep inside the paper. I wrote another one, and the same thing happened. I tried to write more, but I started to get the message. It seemed to me that the Times didn’t want these stories.
What angered me most was that while they were burying my skeptical stories, the editors were not only giving banner headlines to stories asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, they were also demanding that I help match stories from other publications about Iraq’s purported WMD programs. I grew so sick of this that when the Washington Post reported that Iraq had turned over nerve gas to terrorists, I refused to try to match the story. One mid-level editor in the Washington bureau yelled at me for my refusal. He came to my desk carrying a golf club while berating me after I told him that the story was bullshit and I wasn’t going to make any calls on it.
As a small protest, I put a sign on my desk that said, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” It was New York Journal publisher William Randolph Hearst’s supposed line to artist Frederic Remington, whom he had sent to Cuba to illustrate the “crisis” there before the Spanish-American War. I don’t think my editors even noticed the sign.