It’s said fairly commonly in journalism circles that people actually died in Iraq because reporters did not do their jobs. Do you believe that?
In what way?
There were sources out there who could have been tapped to find out about weapons of mass destruction, about things like that, and it didn’t happen.
Well, it did happen and it was really hard and—[pause]
For example, you guys didn’t find what Knight Ridder folks found.
Yes, but if you go back and look at those stories, it’s not clear what they had. And I fault myself mightily for not being aggressive enough on that. But I had sources who told me the evidence on WMD is skimpier than they say and we were going to do a big story about it, and I went back to the sources and I said, “Okay, the evidence is skimpier, but do you still believe that there is WMD in Iraq?” “Oh, yes.” They all—all the sources believed it. They didn’t say it didn’t exist, they said the evidence is skimpier. Now. And I ran a story before the war on the front page of the Washington Post saying there’s no smoking gun evidence of WMD. Now, I should have known, if there’s no smoking gun, you don’t have it. Should have been more aggressive. But how do you penetrate that without going to Iraq under Saddam, knock on—you know, and say, “Hey, I’d like to investigate your WMD.” Not going to get very far.
Buried deep in Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, is a revealing anecdote about how the press covered the runup to the war in Iraq. By mid-March 2003, Woodward writes, three separate sources had told him confidentially that the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "was not as conclusive as the CIA and the administration had suggested." This, he notes, "was troubling, particularly on what seemed to be the eve of war." When he mentioned this to Walter Pincus, a colleague at The Washington Post, Pincus told him that he had heard "precisely the same thing" from some of his sources. Woodward then drafted five paragraphs for a possible news story and gave a copy to Pincus and the Post's national security editor. The draft began:Some of the key US intelligence that is the basis for the conclusion that Iraq has large caches of weapons of mass destruction looks increasingly circumstantial, and even shaky as it is further scrutinized, subjected to outside analysis and on-the-ground verification, according to informed sources.A senior Bush administration source briefed last month on the intelligence said it was "pretty thin," and might be enough to reach the legal standard of "probable cause" to bring an indictment but not enough for conviction.
Both Pincus and the editor thought the draft "a little strong," and Woodward agreed. "Though the sources were excellent," he wrote, "they were only saying the evidence was skimpy. None were asserting that WMD would not be found in Iraq after a war." Instead the Post on March 16, 2003, ran a much-toned-down version by Pincus on page A17, under the headline, "US Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms."