10 Years On: The New York Times and 9-11

After committing heroic journalism in the days and weeks after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Times journalists slipped back into partisan liberal patterns, blaming Bush for failing to stop the attacks, comparing bombing Baghdad to the 9-11 terror attacks, even promoting a "Truther" convention.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Times reporters overcame enormous danger and duress to perform often-heroic feats of journalism, as proven by the Pulitzer Prize winning 'Portraits of Grief' series, which commemorated the lives of every single victim of the terrorist attacks. But in the months and years that followed the paper reverted to partisan and liberal ways, even when the subject was the deadly attack on their hometown.

On Sunday the Times will print a special section marking the 10th anniversary of 9-11 (you can read it online now). In anticipation of the paper's commemoration, here's a sampling of the paper's years of slanted coverage related to the attacks.


On March 22, 2003, as the Iraq War began, reporter David Chen offensively compared the bombs over Baghdad to the attacks of 9-11: 'Baghdad Bombing Brings Back Memories of 9/11,' likened the terrorist annihilation of the World Trade Center to the U.S. bombing of Iraqi forces in Baghdad.

They watched it from the streets. They watched it from their offices. And to many New Yorkers, the scenes of a city under siege were achingly familiar. New Yorkers watching the televised bombing of Baghdad yesterday said they were riveted by the raw and uninterrupted display of American military might. But for some, the bombing brought back particularly visceral and chilling memories. They could not help thinking about Sept. 11, and how New York, too, was once under assault from the skies.


The Times kept getting basic facts wrong in a rush to pin blame for the 9-11 attacks on a President Bush who was asleep at the switch.

When the famous August 6, 2001 President's Daily Briefing, the two-page classified briefing document given to Bush 36 days before 9-11, was declassified in April 2004, several Times stories hit President Bush for allegedly missing clues to 9-11, despite the memo's distinct lack of detail.

On April 11, 2004, Philip Shenon penned "Panel Plans to Document the Breadth of Lost Opportunities." Taking talking points from the anti-Bush official Richard Clarke, Shenon wrote that the former counterterrorism director thinks the Bush administration "cared little about terrorist threats before Sept. 11."

Shenon wrote: "Richard A. Clarke, President Bush's former counterterrorism director, said in a new book and in testimony to the panel that President Bush and his top aides cared little about terrorist threats before Sept. 11. Had they cared, he asserts, the government might have had a chance to tie together what now seem to have been obvious clues available to the government in late 2000 and early 2001 that Al Qaeda was about to attack in America. At least some of the clues were presented directly to President Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, when he received an intelligence briefing on Qaeda threats in the United States."

That same day, intelligence reporter Douglas Jehl penned "A Warning, but Clear?" It too opened with a hard sell of the briefing Bush received on August 6, 2001: "In a single 17-sentence document, the intelligence briefing delivered to President Bush in August 2001 spells out the who, hints at the what and points toward the where of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that followed 36 days later. Whether its disclosure does lasting damage to Mr. Bush's presidency and re-election prospects may depend on whether the White House succeeds in persuading Americans that, as a whole, its significance adds up to less than a sum of those parts."

Here are those "parts" referenced by reporter Jehl-from the last three paragraphs of the document:

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a"service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of 'Blind Sheik' Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, F.B.I. information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The F.B.I. is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

Note how vague the actual evidence is, compares to the Times' overdrawn assertions.

Eric Lichtblau and David Sanger contributed the paper's April 10, 2004 lead story, headlined: "August '01 Brief Is Said To Warn Of Attack Plans - Contradicts White House."

But as the actual memo shows, there were no specific "attack plans," only hints. Still, Lichtblau and Sanger pumped up the vague details of the PDB and claim the White House to be caught in a "contradiction": "President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, a government official said Friday...The disclosure appears to contradict the White House's repeated assertions that the briefing the president received about the Qaeda threat was 'historical' in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect a Qaeda attack within American borders."


Another black mark for the paper was reporter Alan Feuer's notoriously soft treatment of a Truthers convention in Chicago from June 5, 2006. Feuer treated the conspiracy theorists who thought 9/11 was an inside job on the part of the Bush administration with respect: '500 Conspiracy Buffs Meet To Seek the Truth of 9/11.'

That very headline gives the conspiracy-mongers the undeserved accolade of truth-seekers when they're actually just crawling for scraps of evidence 'proving' that Bush, not radical Islamic terrorism, was responsible for 9/11.

The story's text box put the conspiracists in the same box as other historical sceptics, to make them appear less wacky: 'Some participants see an American tradition of questioning concentrated power.'

Feuer brought up more palatable conspiracy theories, as if to shield the 9/11-mongers: 'Like a prior generation of skeptics - those who doubted, say, the Warren Commission or the government's account of the Gulf of Tonkin attack - the 9/11 Truthers are dogged, at home and in the office, by friends and family who suspect that they may, in fact, be completely nuts.'


While Times reporters sought to blame Bush for failing to anticipate 9-11, or promoted anti-Bush conspiracy theories, some columnists sought to downplay the tragedy itself by suggesting the accounting scandal at Enron (the left-wing idea of a true atrocity) was actually more significant.

Here's Paul Krugman on January 29, 2002 making the point with his usual charmless 'humor': 'It was a shocking event. With incredible speed, our perception of the world and of ourselves changed. It seemed that before we had lived in a kind of blind innocence, with no sense of the real dangers that lurked. Now we had experienced a rude awakening, which changed everything. No, I'm not talking about Sept. 11; I'm talking about the Enron scandal...The Enron scandal, on the other hand, clearly was about us. It told us things about ourselves that we probably should have known, but had managed not to see. I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.'

Looking back at the decade of the '00s, Frank Rich even threw in Tiger Woods in his December 20, 2009 column: 'We've rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, 'the day that changed everything,' was the decade's defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger's may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating. Indeed, if we go back to late 2001, the most revealing news story may have been unfolding not in New York but Houston - the site of the Enron scandal. That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger's included.'