To a ?small number? of civilian employees at the Pentagon, a New York Times story on June 3 came as quite a jolt: some of them had apparently already been polygraphed as part of an investigation into Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.
Thing is, it never happened. Three weeks later, it appears that the implicated civilian employees at the Pentagon have not been polygraphed.
And the Times is unapologetic in the face of substantial evidence that it got the story wrong.
Iraqi Governing Council member and longtime U.S. ally Ahmed Chalabi was all over the news late last and early this month for allegedly passing classified information to Iran. According to various news accounts, an Iranian intelligence agent in Baghdad supposedly cabled Tehran to inform them that Chalabi had tipped them off that the U.S. had cracked their code?a message sent using the same cracked code.
The Times scored a significant scoop, running the details of the ?code? scandal on page one on Wednesday, June 2. The following day, the paper of record had the scoop of the follow-up, reporting that the FBI had started polygraph examinations on a ?small number? of civilian employees at the Pentagon.
Common knowledge inside the beltway is that the Times story identification of the ?small number? of ?civilian employees? was a thinly-veiled reference to people working for Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz or in the policy shop, headed by Undersecretary Douglas Feith. (Most in that group are political appointees and were hawks on Iraq.)
The practical result was a smear of State?s and CIA?s political enemies?Chalabi and the Pentagon?s hawks. That?s undoubtedly the exact outcome for which the Times? sources hoped.
In fairness to the Times, it appears that the FBI has initiated some sort of investigation, including limited use of polygraph testing?but on people who were based in Baghdad.
The June 3 article, however, makes no such allowance, and in fact, is quite clear in identifying polygraphed employees as ?at the Pentagon.? The lead sentence is unambiguous in announcing, ?Federal investigators have begun administering polygraph examinations to civilian employees at the Pentagon.?
Further down the article, readers are informed that ?officials familiar with the investigation say that they are ? likely to interview senior Pentagon officials.? Three weeks later, it appears that has yet to happen?but the taint from the smear lingers.
The Times didn?t simply get the story wrong, though. It breached basic codes of journalism ethics.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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