Do its ethics rules apply to Argus blogs?

As the Argus Leader seeks once again to get blogs off the ground, it faces a variety of problems. Sadly, one appears to be truth.

Material from the paper’s “Voices” blog not only shows up online, but excerpts from it are run on the front of the local “news” section. Of course, the Argus doesn’t deign to attribute the blog excerpts in the paper to the person who wrote the blog entry. I knew someone at the Argus had opined on Iraq in the last day or so thanks to my RSS reader. As usual, I glanced at the first graf or so the reader grabbed and went on to other things because I didn’t really care. But today additional paragraphs appeared in the woodpulp edition of the paper. Here’s what grabbed my attention. In asserting we were justified in invading Iraq, copy editor Sheri Levisay trotted out a lie that never seems to go away. Reason “A” for why the invasion was the right thing to do? “Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors in 1998.”

This falsehood was debunked years ago, long before the invasion itself. Saddam did not “kick out” the weapons inspectors. Here is what the official web site for the United Nations Special Commission in charge of the inspections says: “16 Dec 1998 The Special Commission withdraws its staff from Iraq.” (Underlining added). That’s right, the UN made a unilateral decision to withdraw the weapons inspectors (a decision which some claim was at the suggestion of the Clinton Administration). Granted, that withdrawal may have been prompted by a lack of Iraqi cooperation, but a unilateral UN decision is a far cry from Saddam having “kicked out” the weapons inspectors.

Don’t think that version of events is accurate? Well, in February 2000 — three years before the invasion — the New York Times ran the following correction:

A front-page article yesterday about the Clinton administration’s policy on Iraq misstated the circumstances under which international weapons inspectors left that country before American and British air strikes in December 1998. While Iraq had ceased cooperating with the inspectors, it did not expel them. The United Nations withdrew them before the air strikes began.

(Emphasis added.)

I know. The Bushies repeatedly dragged this lie out in the run up to the invasion. And despite the fact it is demonstrably false, most of the media didn’t call them on it. Thus, it is a lie repeated so often that it is now deemed accepted “fact” not only among supporters of Bush and the Iraq War but even the general public. Still, you would think — or at least hope — that if a newspaper is going to blog about events in Iraq, it would rely on facts, not simply just repeat Bush Administration lies and spin. And while it’s easy to say this is just opinion (one that likely could be considered the newspaper’s “official” opinion since it is unattributed to any individual in the print edition), the newspaper’s own Principles of Ethical Conduct say, “We will hold factual information in opinion columns and editorials to the same standards of accuracy as news stories.”

Evidently, those principles don’t apply to the Voices blog.

UPDATE: The Argus ran the following correction in its Jan. 19 edition: “In 1998, the United Nations removed its weapons inspectors from Iraq in advance of U.S.-led airstrikes and after Iraq stopped cooperating with inspections. This information was incorrect in an excerpt from a Voices blog entry in the Dec. 30 newspaper.”

A good newspaper is never nearly good enough but a lousy newspaper is a joy forever.

Garrison Keillor, Harper’s, September 1990

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