We have mail! Outgoing mail, that is - an open letter to the NY Times public editor on the matter of Nick Kristof and the Wilson trip to Niger.
Dear Mr. Okrent;
Ambassador Wilson, who came to national attention a year ago with his op-ed in the NY Times ("What I Didn't Find In Africa") and the resulting furor about the President's "16 Words" (not to mention the "outing" of his wife, Valerie Plame), is back in the news.
According to a recent story in the Washington Post, the Senate Intelligence committee has concluded that "misleading information" had been reported by the Post back in June 2002 based on information provided by Ambassador Wilson . Mr. Kristof reported information similar to that which the Post now describes as "misleading" in his May 6, 2002 column. In other Post reporting on this matter, Mr. Kristof seems to have confirmed that the Ambassador was a source for that column.
Are you planning to take any steps to see whether the NY Times, and its readers, were also misled by Ambassador Wilson? If the Senate Intelligence Commitee and the Washington Post can run corrections, perhaps the NY Times can as well.
Thank you for your attention. Details are available below.
UPDATE: This Nick Kristof column from June 13, 2003 continues the story, and it is a reasonable guess that Wilson was one source. It's interesting (in a car-wreck sort of way) to see how widely it differs from the Senate Intelligence report.
In his most recent column (July 10), Mr. Kristof referred to the "the leak of the name of the glamour spy, Valerie Plame, so we infer he still considers the Wilson/Plame case to be newsworthy.
Perhaps he might also find newsworthy the information in the Senate Intelligence report, which was reported in the Washington Post (July 9, "Plame's Input Is Cited on Niger Mission", Susan Schmidt) as follows:
The report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong."
The Washington Post was misled in their June 12 story ("CIA Did Not Share Doubt on Iraq Data", Walter Pincus). The controversial paragraph would appear to be this:
After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said. Among the envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong," the former U.S. government official said.
However, again according to the Washington Post ("Probe Focuses on Month Before Leak to Reporters", Walter Pincus and Mike Allen), Ambassador Wilson was also a source for a Nick Kristof column on May 6 ("Missing in Action: Truth") that reported similar information. The Post story seems to assert that Mr. Kristof confirmed this to them. An excerpt:
The first public mention of Wilson's mission to Niger, albeit without identifying him by name, was in the New York Times on May 6, in a column by Nicholas D. Kristof. Kristof had been on a panel with Wilson four days earlier, when the former ambassador said State Department officials should know better than to say the United States had been duped by forged documents that allegedly had proved a deal for the uranium had been in the works between Iraq and Niger.
Wilson said he told Kristof about his trip to Niger on the condition that Kristof must keep his name out of the column. When the column appeared, it created little public stir, though it set a number of reporters on the trail of the anonymous former ambassador. Kristof confirmed that account.
The specific information in Mr. Kristof's column that appears to be most similar to the controversial passage in the Post story is this:
In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.
The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade.
Now, I suppose it is possible that the Ambassador was not the source for the information about what Mr. Wilson said at the meeting, but that strikes me as an odd journalistic practice - under that theory, Nick Kristof meets Mr. Wilson, is inspired by their conversation to do a column about the Ambassador's trip to Niger, has the Ambassador as a source, but does not verify information about what the Ambassador said and reported with the Ambassador himself. Odd.
I am inclined to suspect that the Ambassador was the source, and that the NY Times (and its readers) where misled by the reporting of what is, in Mr. Kristof's view and that of the Washington Post, still a newsworthy story.