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I was wrong 

The N&O won't do it, The New York Times barely did it, and television news is too busy promoting the Bachelor Super Millionaire American Idol to be bothered. But as a semi-respectable news organization, I'd like the Independent, at least, to acknowledge where we made mistakes and misled readers in our coverage of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and after. For that, I'm sorry. Here goes:

On Feb. 12, 2003, I wrote:

There is no reasonable case for an American war against Iraq. Yes, Saddam Hussein is a vile, vicious dictator. Yes, there is some reason to believe that he still has some capability to use chemical weapons (though no indication of nuclear ones)...

There was, of course no reason to believe that Saddam Hussein still had any capability to use chemical weapons, according to both American and U.N. weapons inspectors.

On Feb. 19, 2003, I said:

The best-case scenario has American taxpayers spending billions of dollars to rule and rebuild Iraq. The worst-case is worse than anything we can imagine.

I was way off to suggest the operation would cost billions of dollars. Make that hundreds of billions of dollars. And who knew the worst case we couldn't imagine wasn't just a bloody guerrilla war, but one we hadn't planned for and weren't prepared to fight.

After the invasion started, I wrote on March 19, 2003:

Years from now this whole episode, regardless of the war's outcome, will be seen as a low point in American journalism rivaling Hearst's escapades leading up to the Spanish-American War. Remember the Maine? Remember the Aluminum Tubes.

It turns out that it didn't take years, only about one year, thanks to people like Paul O'Neill, Joseph Wilson, Richard Clarke and Seymour Hersh.

On April 2, 2003, I wrote:

The real world won't be too far from the [Durham Bulls Athletic Park]. They'll be giving out yellow ribbon pins at some of the games. And there's a big yellow ribbon painted on the field behind home plate. "We'll have the ribbon there until the troops come home," says Matt DeMargel, the team's PR man.

Troops are still in Iraq. The yellow ribbon is gone.

On April 9, 2003, I said:

We can lose this war the old-fashioned way, by getting our asses kicked.

No, not in Iraq. We've demonstrated that our heavy armor, well-trained troops and multimillion-dollar GPS-guided smart bombs can get us control of most of the country (or at least the main roads). The secretary of state has suggested that's enough to declare victory--regardless of Saddam's fate.

A secret CIA report says we can lose the ground war.

On May 28, 2003, I asked:

Why is it that The News & Observer has yet to run a word about investigations by the BBC and others that found the story of the rescue of Jessica Lynch was mostly fabricated by the military--not a correction, not a story about the administration's larger campaign of deceit, nothing?

They ran a story the day that issue came out. Better late than never.

I wrote on July 30, 2003:

A couple of people have suggested to me lately that the tide may be turning, with the flap over the State of the Union speech, Tony Blair's mess, the chaos in Iraq and the Bush administration's inability to explain its credibility problems.

I'm not sure. But I know one thing: It's a story I haven't seen on Fox News.

Even Fox, as well as a slew of conservative commentators, have had to acknowledge that Bush is in trouble.

And on Sept. 17, 2003, I wrote:

[I]t's a shame for otherwise good newspapers with the journalistic pretensions of The N&O, because if they'd broken from the pack and applied the same critical eye they use on local and regional news, they'd look like heroes today. Instead, the war is a story that, years from now, many editors will wish they could have back.

So far, they don't.

More by Richard Hart


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