But, quoted in the column, Times foreign editor Susan Chira admitted that The Times had been “sloppy” in describing Al Qaeda in Iraq, and Mr. Gordon has recently been singled out by left-leaning critics over this very issue—most notably, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald.
Five days later, The Times ran a front page article that questioned the president’s recent assertions, made in a press conference the previous day: “Bush Distorts Qaeda Links, Critics Assert.”
Written by Michael Gordon and Mr. Rutenberg, the 1,153-word piece looked skeptically at attempts to squash obvious distinctions between Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11.
“I did notice the piece,” Mr. Hoyt said, when reached by phone on July 13. “I thought it was a good story.”
Mr. Hoyt said he did not think the column was the primary impetus behind The Times story. However: “I thought that perhaps the column had raised sensitivities to the issue,” he said.
“The press conference performance was another example of what the column talked about,” Mr. Hoyt said. “I’m sure they were looking at something that gave them a fresh perspective on it.”
That morning, Mr. Baquet said the piece was not as a response to the public editor’s critique.
“Obviously, I read Clark’s column, [but] that really wasn’t the inspiration for it,” Mr. Baquet said.
In fact, the “genesis” of the piece, according to Mr. Baquet, was watching the July 12 press conference, in which President Bush made at least 30 references to “Al Qaeda” along with several unfounded (and fear mongering) pronouncements. (For one, he said: “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th. …)
“I think that you can make the case that the press in general has not been clear enough in describing the connection,” said Mr. Baquet.
“I don’t think that one can point to one particular newspaper as suffering from this problem of stenography,” Mr. Landay added. “I think it is a problem that has afflicted much of our industry since September 11, 2001.”
Following the nearly hour-long press conference, Mr. Baquet said he consulted with Ms. Chira, too.
The piece ran with a Baghdad dateline, reflecting the bureau where Mr. Gordon is stationed.
Mr. Baquet, who took over the bureau only four months ago, at the end of Byron Calame’s tenure, said he hasn’t dealt with much criticism from public editors thus far.
He said it “remains to be seen” whether the newest public editor takes specific aim at the Washington bureau.
“The column on Al Qaeda suggests that he will be bringing to the job a sharpness of perception and a willingness to dive into the most pressing issues,” said Mr. Massing. “That has been lacking in that space in the past.”
“It’s not like I’m going to have some special laser—that Washington is my obsession,” Mr. Hoyt said. But, he said, it was only natural that this year, the topic will come up again.
“We’re deep into a presidential campaign, and it’s only going to get more intense,” Mr. Hoyt said. “I know from my experience, [that] Times coverage—and all newspaper coverage—comes under a microscope. I’m sure I’ll be looking at Times political coverage.”