May 6 2008

NYT Again Excludes Critics From Iraq War Discussion

Paper reprises one-sided panel to discuss “Mission Accomplished”

The New York Times‘ May 4 Week in Review section featured a discussion of the state of the Iraq War with advocates of that war—-the same advocates who prompted a FAIR action alert on March 17. The following letter was sent to New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt, Op-Ed page editor David Shipley and Week in Review editor Sam Tanenhaus. Their contact information is listed below, as is FAIR’s earlier alert.

Clark Hoyt, public editor

Sam Tanenhaus, Week in Review editor

David Shipley, Op-ed page editor

Dear Sirs:

On March 16, the New York Times presented a discussion of the Iraq War with “nine experts on military and foreign affairs”–all of whom supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. As FAIR asked in a March 17 Action Alert, why should the debate over the war should be restricted to those who made erroneous predictions about the invasion? FAIR supporters sent many emails to the paper, but we received no response.

On May 4, the Week in Review section featured the exact same line-up of “experts,” this time reacting to the fifth anniversary of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech. Thus, Times readers could hear from Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute–who, five years ago, penned an op-ed for USA Today (5/2/03) headlined “Relax, Celebrate Victory.” The Times also shared the views of AEI’s Danielle Pletka, who five years ago said on CNBC (5/2/03), “We just won a war in Iraq.”

Over the course of the Iraq War, many commentators have pointed out that the pundits and analysts who pushed for the Iraq invasion in the first place are still dominant figures in the media debate over the war–as if the fact that they were wrong were unimportant, or even evidence of their seriousness.

As the Times defined the May 4 feature, the authors were asked to “identify a significant challenge facing the American and Iraqi leadership today and to propose one specific step to help overcome that challenge.”

Why is the Times only interested in hearing Iraq War advocates address those issues?


Peter Hart

Activism Director



New York Times

Public editor

Clark Hoyt

(212) 556-7652

Week In Review editor

Sam Tanenhaus

Op-ed page editor

David Shipley


No Antiwar Voices in NYT ‘Debate’

Look back at Iraq features nine hawkish ‘experts’


The New York Times offered a look back at the Iraq War in its March 16 “Week In Review” section that leaned heavily towards pro-war voices.

The Times explained to readers:

“To mark this week’s fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the Op-Ed page asked nine experts on military and foreign affairs to reflect on their attitudes in the spring of 2003 and to comment on the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wished they had considered in the prewar debate.”

The “experts” who were asked to weigh in all more or less supporters of the Iraq War, most of whom evinced no regret about their errors. The neoconservative American Enterprise Institute provided three columnists: Richard Perle, Fred Kagan and Danielle Pletka, all of them among the strongest advocates for the invasion. The Times also gave space to the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack, another strong supporter of the invasion.

Featured as well were former Iraq envoy L. Paul Bremer and Paul D. Eaton, a retired general who served as a trainer of the Iraqi military early in the war. Former Marine Nathaniel Fick of the Center for a New American Security, who took part in the invasion of Iraq as a platoon leader, also weighed in.

Another columnist was Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served as an on-air defense analyst for ABC News. Cordesman often warned of planning or logistics problems with the invasion, but nonetheless suuported the Iraq War: “I endorse this war, but I do so with reluctance and considerable uncertainty,” Cordesman declared in testimony prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2/12/03).

The other columnist was Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, generally considered a “liberal hawk.” Like Cordesman, Slaughter was less supportive of the Iraq War than other hawks. But in a column for the New York Times just prior to the invasion (“Good Reasons for Going Around the U.N.,” 3/18/03), Slaughter argued that the Bush administration’s decision to bypass a Security Council vote could work out once weapons of mass destruction were found, and the Iraqi people rallied behind the U.S.-led intervention.

None of the commentators selected by the Times to look back on the fifth anniversary of the war had been actual opponents of the invasion. And none of them conclude that the United States ought to stop occupying Iraq. Pletka’s piece begins, “The mantra of the antiwar left–‘Bush lied, people died’–so dominates the debate about the run-up to the Iraq war that it has obscured real issues that deserve examination.” But the “debate” in the New York Times completely excludes the antiwar perspective, left-wing or otherwise.

In a separate piece for the Times, reporter John Burns wrote that “only the most prescient could have guessed…that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America’s financial costs, by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008, on their way to perhaps $2 trillion if the commitment continues for another five years.”

Actually, one did not have to be unusually prescient to think that the Iraq War would be costly and would likely kill many thousands of civilians and combatants; millions of people around the world marched against the invasion to call attention to these very dangers. But by focusing the post-war debate so squarely on what pro-war “experts” think these days, one could certainly get the impression that no one knew better.

New York Times op-ed page editor David Shipley (7/31/05) has described the op-ed page as “a venue for people with a wide range of perspectives, experiences and talents,” writing that he aims for “a lively page of clashing opinions, one where as many people as possible have the opportunity to make the best arguments they can.” It’s hard to see how Shipley can argue that his assembly of pro-war voices for the war’s fifth anniversary merits that description.


Contact the New York Times and ask them why their March 16 Week in Review op-ed section excluded antiwar voices.


New York Times public editor

Clark Hoyt

(212) 556-7652

New York Times editorial page

New York Times op-ed page editor

David Shipley