By John Stauber on May 05, 2008

Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher notes that New York Times military reporter Michael Gordon, "who contributed several false stories about Iraqi WMD in the run-up to the U.S. attack in Iraq," has been writing about Iran's alleged involvement in attacks against U.S. service members in Iraq. Gordon's latest article, "Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say," is "based solely on unnamed sources," notes Mitchell.

An article from McClatchy's Baghdad bureau also contradicts Gordon's New York Times piece. McClatchy reports that the Iraqi government "seemed to distance itself from U.S. accusations towards Iran." Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said the government had formed a committee to find "tangible information" about Iranian activities in Iraq, instead of relying on "information based on speculation." Al-Dabbagh also told Agence France-Press that there is no "hard evidence" of Iranian support of insurgents in Iraq.

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner has seen this sort of poorly-sourced reporting before in the New York Times as part of the propaganda campaign that led America directly into the disastrous quagmire in Iraq.

Gardiner told me:

This is so deja vu that it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Remember Salman Pak? That was the terrorist training camp in Iraq that was used over and over again to justify the invasion. The parallels to this new story are striking. At Salman Pak the story was that Hezbollah was being trained. In the new version, Hezbollah terrorists are the trainers. In the new story, the group size is 16 militants. At Salman Pak, the groups were smaller, around five individuals. At Salman Pak the foreigners were trained on the other side of the facility. In the Iranian camp, these foreigners are close enough so informants can hear their 'other dialects and languages.'

It feels like the story is part of a strategic communications plan. ... I expect the American officials -- at the beginning of the article, it was one official, but by the end there were officials -- expected an echo from the story. The echo from the Salman Pak story was repeated by CENTCOM briefers during the invasion and FOX news hosts were even repeating it a year later. This morning's New York Times piece has already been echoed by Reuters, Bloomberg and UPI.

The New York Times has recently won deserved praise for its investigation by David Barstow into the illegal Pentagon military analyst program that sold and managed the attack and occupation of Iraq, embedding military propagandists for the Pentagon into the TV networks as commentators. This article by Michael Gordon is the polar opposite, reminiscent of the horrendous errors of judgment and bad journalism committed by Michael Gordon, Judith Miller and others at the New York Times who turned the paper into a conduit for phony stories that sold the war in Iraq. Here we go again?

John Stauber

In 1993, John Stauber founded the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and its magazine, PR Watch, in Madison, Wisconsin.