Reading the June 3 article leaves one with the conclusion that the Pentagon did not dispute the polygraph story. Nowhere in the piece is there even a reference to the Pentagon?s side of the story.
That doesn?t mean that Pentagon officials agreed with the Times? reporting, however. They did not, and quite strenuously at that.
Times reporter David Johnston made one call to the Pentagon at 8:30pm the night before the story ran, and it wasn?t even to someone in the Office of Public Affairs. According to the person with whom he spoke, it was only intended as a ?head?s up,? not as a call seeking comment.
The Pentagon official, though, informed Johnston that no one in his shop had been polygraphed and that he had been asking all day and found no indication that a civilian employee in any other shop had been, either. Johnston?s response was telling: ?That?s not good enough.? (Reached for comment, Johnston did not desaying this.)
With even a minimal amount of digging, either Johnston or his co-author, James Risen, could have unearthed a denial of the polygraphing story.
Since the rumors of an investigation had been circulating for days at that point and buzz about polygraphing had grown quite noticeable by early Wednesday, June 2, senior Defense Department officials and press officers sought in earnest to determine if anyone in Washington had, in fact, been polygraphed.
Following that effort, the results were circulated as talking points, which were available to reporters. The most relevant excerpt: ?No senior Department of Defense official is the target of any investigation with respect to Ahmed Chalabi. To the best of our knowledge, no official at the Pentagon has been polygraphed or told to expect to be polygraphed in the Chalabi investigation.?
While Johnston may not have been satisfied that the answer he received constituted a denial, the Washington Post was comfortable printing a very similar statement. Immediately after citing the polygraphing allegation?on June 3, the same day as the Times story?the Post article continued, ?But senior officials at the Pentagon said they knew of no one there who had been interviewed by the FBI or who had been requested to submit to an interview.?
With nearly three weeks of hindsight, it appears the Times unfairly tarnished the good names of a relatively small number of public servants. Granted, the paper didn?t claim guilt, but charges of polygraphing have an undeniable impact on public perception.
Even if a correction runs eventually, it will probably be too little. It will certainly be too late. But that?s if it ever runs at all. Knowing the Times, there?s little cause for optimism.
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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