Fair and Balanced Nukes?

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Yesterday’s New York Times represented a kind of quiet sea change. A front-page article addressed the quality of intelligence analyses of Iran’s nuclear intentions, against the background of the West’s mounting confrontation with Tehran. Unlike the largely credulous articles written by Judith Miller and others that provided crucial fodder for justifying the invasion of Iraq (over Weapons of Mass Destruction that turned out not to exist), here was the Times bending over backwards to include doubts expressed by skeptics. In fact, the paper bent so far over that it went to those not usually referenced in such technical matters.

First, a quote from the CIA spokesman.

In assessing the construction near Qum, the Central Intelligence Agency “formed its conclusions carefully and patiently over time, weighing and testing each piece of information that came in,” said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman. “This was a major intelligence success.”

Then, a . . . blogger:

Not all are persuaded. Glenn Greenwald, an author and a left-leaning blogger for the online magazine Salon, called the parallels with the charges that Iraq had so-called weapons of mass destruction in 2002 “substantial and disturbing.” “The administration is making inflammatory claims about another country’s W.M.D. program and intentions without providing any evidence,” he said.

Greenwald is followed by another skeptic, Gary Sick—but the latter is at least an Iran expert. The mere fact that the Times feels comfortable leading off with someone who specializes in opinion writing (Greenwald is smart and a provocative writer, but his background is constitutional law) tells us a lot about the paper’s new approach to balance. Unfortunately, it is not real balance, more a kind of apples-and-orange approach. It is easy to dismiss Greenwald’s concerns because, well, (a) he is “left-leaning blogger” , and (b) what would he actually know about the technical aspects of a very technical issue?

What we are seeing may be the future of “fair and balanced” reporting.

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

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