The Blog

Getting It Wrong on Purpose

The New York Times goes out of its way to misreport the state of the Iraq Reconstruction and Development Council.

12:00 AM, May 7, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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AH, FAIRNESS. Just when you thought the New York Times might have abandoned that quaint principle of journalism, faith is restored. Mine was, anyway, after reading this passage from Douglas Jehl's April 19 story.

"Bush administration officials have long expressed concern that Syria is developing chemical weapons and about its support for organizations the United States considers terrorist, including Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

"The United States considers terrorist."

Of course, pretty much everyone considers these groups terrorist. They target civilians for death. That's why they exist. And of course they hate us. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, on the eve of the war in Iraq, proclaimed "'Death to America' was, is and will stay our slogan."

Terrorists? Those guys? Who's to say? It's all relative.

If only Jehl gave the same benefit of the doubt to the Iraqi-Americans working with the Bush administration to rebuild their country. In a front-page, above-the-fold article last Sunday, Jehl described the Iraq Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC)--a group of 150 Iraqi exiles working with the Pentagon:

"Technically," he writes, they work for a "defense contractor," where they toil away in "heavily guarded offices." They work "outside Washington" and their "telephone numbers and e-mail addresses betray no hint of a Pentagon link." Most of them "espouse liberal, secular ideas that are at odds even with those of many other Iraqi exiles as well as powerful forces inside Iraq." Some "exile leaders," he continues, "say the creation of the team was too narrow and overly influenced by the views of [Paul] Wolfowitz and fellow conservatives." Is it any wonder then, as Jehl tells us in a report first posted on the website Saturday, "the Pentagon has kept the Iraqi exile operation under close wraps"?

Except that's wrong. Really wrong. In fact, the New York Times itself has written several times about the IRDC and its leaders.

On April 26, 2003, Jehl and Jane Perlez wrote a front-page article about the group.

On April 17, 2003, Times reporter Lisa Napoli profiled Sam Kareem, who "left his home near Detroit for an indefinite stay in Washington to work with the Defense Department in planning a transitional postwar government for Iraq."

On April 5, 2003, Elizabeth Bumiller reported that the head of the group, Emad Dhia, attended a meeting with President Bush. Journalists were in the room. Dhia said "that he was working with Jay Garner, a retired Army general who will be leading the Pentagon's office for Iraq reconstruction and relief."

On February 24, 2003, Times reporter Eric Schmitt reported, in his lead, that "the Pentagon will begin recruiting Iraqi-Americans to serve in the military reserves and hiring them as translators and other temporary civilian employees." Schmitt quoted Wolfowitz's remarks at the official unveiling of the operation, a public meeting in suburban Detroit. "We're establishing a program through which Iraqi-Americans could be hired as temporary civilian employees or, in some cases, independent contractors of the U.S. government."

After complaints came in from the Pentagon about Jehl's latest piece, the Times agreed to change at least part of the story. But the "corrected" version isn't much better; it reads: "Dr. Wolfowitz announced plans to form the exile team at the Feb. 23 rally. Still, the Pentagon has been guarded in answering inquiries about the team, although officials say their motivation is to provide security."

Which still isn't right. The Pentagon was hardly "guarded" when Emad Dhia, head of the IRDC, talked to me for a 30-minute interview in early April (Beyond Baghdad). He wasn't guarded any of the previous half-dozen times I had interviewed him, either. In the aforementioned article, he spoke at length about the project:

Operating on a parallel track in suburban Washington, D.C., is the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC), run by Emad Dhia, an Iraqi American from Detroit. That group consists of 100 Iraqi exiles who have spent the past two months working 16-hour days, seven days a week. They will shortly join Garner's staff in Iraq to facilitate the transition.