The New York Times issued an unusual correction today, not of a specific article but of its entire coverage of the Iraq war.

The correction centered on Times reports of Saddam Hussein’s development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The paper said in its review of hundreds of articles, it is proud of an “enormous amount” of its journalism.

“But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been,” the Times said.

“In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged – or failed to emerge.’

The paper said, “Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.”

“The problematic articles,” the Times said, “varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ‘regime change’ in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks.”

The most prominent of these informants was Ahmad Chalabi, a Times source since 1991 who introduced reporters to other exiles. He “became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week,” the paper said, referring to a raid by coalition forces on Chalabi’s home.

“Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by U.S. officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq,” the Times correction continued. “Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations – in particular, this one.”

The Times said articles “based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”

The paper gave some examples, including page 1 stories Oct. 26 and Nov. 8, 2001, that “cited Iraqi defectors who described a secret Iraqi camp where Islamic terrorists were trained and biological weapons produced. These accounts have never been independently verified.”

A Dec. 20, 2001, front-page article told of an Iraqi defector who said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as recently as a year ago. The Times said Knight Ridder Newspapers reported last week American officials took that defector to Iraq earlier this year to the sites but were unable to find evidence of their use for weapons programs.

“It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq, but in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in,” the paper said. “And until now we have not reported that to our readers.”

The paper also cast doubt on a Sept. 8, 2002, lead article headlined “U.S. Says Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts,” concerning aluminum tubes the Bush administration pointed to as components for nuclear fuel.

The Times said, five days later its reporters learned the tubes were a subject of debate among intelligence agencies but this was communicated in “an article on Page A13, under a headline that gave no inkling that we were revising our earlier view (“White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons”).”

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