In its article of January 11th, unsubtly entitled In Baghdad, Bush Policy Is Met With Resentment, the Times claimed that the Iraqi government had "offered only a grudging endorsement" of President Bush's proposal and that its response was "tepid."
As supposed evidence of the alleged "resentment," the Times claimed that "the Iraqi leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, failed to appear at a news conference," suggesting that he had spurned a scheduled appearance. This notion was reinforced by the legend appearing beneath the Times' photo [displayed here]: "Iraq’s prime minister sent a spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, to address President Bush’s latest policy."
There was only one problem with the Times depiction of PM Maliki having failed to make a scheduled appearance: it wasn't true. The press briefing was a regularly-scheduled weekly event with Government of Iraq spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and the Prime Minister was never scheduled to appear.
The Times was forced to acknowledge its misrepresentation in a correction published today:
"An article yesterday about the Iraqi government’s response to plans by President Bush to deploy additional troops referred incorrectly to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s absence from the government’s news conference. Mr. Maliki was never scheduled to speak; it was not that he 'failed to appear.'"Now comes a further challenge to the Times story, regarding the way the paper depicted the tone and mood of Dr. al-Dabbagh's comments. According to the Times, al-Dabbagh spoke "tartly" and in a "dyspeptic tone" in discussing the new security plans.
The press conference was conducted exclusively in Arabic. Were the Times reporters Arabic speakers, or were they offering their reading of the tone of remarks?
In any case, a senior U.S. government official located in Baghdad informs me that a US colonel who works with the government of Iraq and who attended the press conference had a very different take on Dr. al-Dabbagh's comments. According to him, rather than tart and dyspeptic, al-Dabbagh's voice and gestures were "forceful and complimentary" about the proposal.
One press conference; two diametrically opposed takes on the spokesman's tone. Given the Times' blatant misrepresentation of a key fact concerning the conference, I'd say the paper's crediblity on the event has been seriously undermined. If anyone is suffering from dyspepsia, it could be the folks at the Times.
UPDATE 1/14/ - Philly Enquirer repeats Times' error:
You know that old line about a lie making its way around the world before the truth can get out of bed . . .
A columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer has repeated the NY Times line about the Maliki no show. In "Surge? Or Just a Trickle?" Trudy Rubin wrote: "Maliki never even showed up for an Iraqi government news conference Thursday on the Bush plan."
I've sent Ms Rubin an email alerting her to the Times' correction and asking her to correct her error.
During his visit to Iraq in November, Finkelstein conducted an extended private interview of Dr. Al-Dabbagh. Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org