I’ve been concerned of late by the New York Times’ coverage of the tensions among Israel, Iran and the U.S. So many of the reports leave the impression – an unfair one, I think — that Israel is chafing at the bit to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, and what a bad idea that is.

An off-the-record conversation this week with a friend in Israel whose work deals with intelligence on Iran led me to a March 26 Politico interview with Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the Times. Her comments, remarkably enough, suggest that the Times is still doubtful about Iran’s potentially lethal intentions.

Abramson defended the Times’ Israel-Iran coverage as “impartial” to Dylan Byers, a blogger on Politico, and said: “The key issue for us is, there’s murky intelligence on the current state of Iran’s nuclear program.”

I’m wondering what’s “murky” about the exhaustive reports that have been coming from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog and international authority on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

An IAEA report last November was its toughest to date, saying it had credible evidence that Iran has conducted tests “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” And while Tehran continues to insist that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, the IAEA said the research included computer models whose only use would be to develop a trigger for a nuclear bomb.

Does the Times still believe Iran is defying the world, enduring increasingly tough economic sanctions and refusing monitors to visit its facilities so it can develop peaceful energy?

Abramson says “the dispute is Iran saying that [its nuclear program is] for civilian use and other intelligence saying that it could be for military use.”
Perhaps Abramson’s disturbingly cautious thinking is based on what she describes as the Times’ “flawed coverage” from Iraq in 2003 concerning weapons of mass destruction.

Judith Miller’s reporting at the time supported Washington’s assertions that Iraq had WMD, a key rationale for the costly war.

In any event, while Abramson notes that “a huge, fundamental difference” between the Iraq situation then and the Iran crisis now is that “at least the administration as it shapes policy is not actively promoting a policy to strike Iran,” she states: “It’s a highly politically charged issue. And it involves intelligence that is somewhat murky.”

The only thing murky here is why the editors of the paper of record seem to be the last folks around to question Iran’s intentions and efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

Pretty scary.