Apologies or Evasions: A Critical Look at the New York Times’s and the Washington Post’s Self-Criticism

Abstract: More than a year after the US invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, both the New York Times and the Washington Post published self-critical articles regarding their coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War. However, an analysis of this coverage in the five days following the UN speech by then-secretary of state Colin Powell shows both papers’ bias to be more profound than these pieces acknowledge. This article quantitatively analyzes each newspaper’s coverage concerning how much of a platform each paper gives to pro- and antiwar voices, thereby revealing both papers’ reporting to be subject to significant prowar bias. A qualitative analysis of the same coverage exposes the various ways in which this bias comes to the fore. Comparing these analyses to the self-critical pieces reveals a lack of acknowledgment of both the severity and the nature of this bias. These findings, which show that the New York Times and the Washington Post downplayed their bias, call into question the ability of these papers to provide balanced news reporting on future proposed military ventures.

On May 26, 2004, the New York Times published an apology for their coverage of the run-up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq entitled “The Times and Iraq.” Similarly, in Howard Kurtz’s August 12, 2004, article “The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story,” the Washington Post critiques its own coverage of the prelude to the war. Newspapers retroactively apologizing for inaccurate reporting is nothing new: For example, the New York Times apologized on May 11, 2003, for a series of falsehoods and plagiarism in articles by one of their reporters (“Editors’ Note”). However, such far-reaching self-criticism related to paper-wide deficient reporting was unheard of at the time, especially with regard to such a long time period and such an important subject as the Iraq War.

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