Michael R. Gordon is the chief military correspondent for The New York Times .
Together with Judith Miller, he wrote most of that paper's coverage of the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq in 2002. During the first phase of the Iraq war, he was the only newspaper reporter embedded with the allied land command under General Tommy Franks, a position that "granted him unique access to cover the invasion strategy and its enactment". He and General Bernard E. Trainor have written two books together, including the best-selling Cobra II.
As an author
Together with Bernard Trainor, he has written two books: The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf
, which covers the 1991 Gulf War
, and Cobra II
, which covers the Iraq War
The General's War won high praise from several critics and decisionmakers, with then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney describing it as "a fascinating account of the war" that he would "recommend" "as something that gives them a different element of some of the key decisions that were made." Jim Lehrer described it as "A superb account and analysis of what went right and what went wrong in the Gulf War"; and Eliot Cohen, writing in Foreign Affairs, called it "the best single volume on the Gulf War."
Cobra II, which "focuses on the rushed and haphazard preparations for war and the appalling relations between the major players," won praise from Lawrence D. Freedman in Foreign Affairs, who wrote that "the research is meticulous and properly sourced, the narrative authoritative, the human aspects of conflict never forgotten. Gordon's paper, the New York Times, called it "a work of prodigious research", adding that it "will likely become the benchmark by which other histories of the Iraq invasion are measured." The New Republic, while calling the book "splendid", wrote that "Gordon and Trainor remain imprisoned in an almost exclusively military analysis of what went wrong...(which)..unintentionally underplays the essential problem in Iraq--the problem of politics."
From West Germany
on New Years Day in 1989, Gordon, together with Steven Engelberg broke the news that Imhausen-Chemie, a West German chemical company, had been serving as the "prime contractor" for an alleged Libyan chemical weapons
production plant at Rabta
since April 1980. The article was based a leak to Gordon "by U.S. administration officials of data that the United States previously had asked West Germany to keep secret". The German government initially denied the allegations, but following further reports on the Rabta plants and pressure from the US administration, a total of three Imhausen employees, including the director, were convicted of illegally supplying CW materials to Libya in October 1991 and a fourth German national was convicted in 1996 for "facilitating Libya's acquisition of computer technology and other equipment to enhance chemical weapons development.
Gordon and Engelberg won a George Polk Award for international reporting following their series of articles.
Coverage of Iraq prior to invasion
As one of the journalists, together with Judy Miller
, writing most of the Times
' coverage on the presence of WMD in Iraq
prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gordon's articles, among others, were the subject of a mea culpa
published by the paper on its front page in 2004, that said while much of "what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information", there were a number of instances that were "not as rigorous as it should have been" and that the administration's case "was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged". The Note further said: "Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated."
Responding to criticism in the New York Review of Books that "many people challenging the administration's assertions" were not quoted in Gordon and Miller's coverage and that it was "revealing that Gordon encountered so few of them", even after David Albright "made a special effort to alert Judith Miller to the dissent, Gordon wrote "I stand by my assertion to Mr. Massing that the notion that Iraq had some form of WMD was a widely shared assumption inside and outside of the government. I made that comment not to excuse any limitations on the part of the media but to paint the context in which American intelligence was prepared and discussed. Mr. Massing takes that assertion out of context, and he cites Mr. Albright's work to challenge that observation though his work actually supports it.
After an interview with PBS
in January 2007 in the course of which he explicitly supported a 'surge
' in Iraq, the then Times public editor
reported that "Times editors have carefully made clear their disapproval of the expression of a personal opinion about Iraq on national television by the paper's chief military correspondent, Michael Gordon. Gordon had told Charlie Rose
that "as a purely personal view, I think it's worth ... one last effort for sure to try to get this right. ... I think that there is the chance to accomplish something." The Washington bureau chief of the newspaper said that Gordon had ""stepped over the line on the 'Charlie Rose' show." The paper's response and Gordon's subsequent apology led its local tabloid
rival, Rupert Murdoch
's New York Post
to run an editorial saying that the Times
wished to "squelch any talk of possible victory" and "didn't want America to win in Iraq" .
Coverage of Iraqi insurgency
Following Gordon's February 10, 2007 front-page story in which he wrote that there was "an increasing body of evidence" that suggested "an Iranian role" in supplying the "deadliest weapon aimed at American troops in Iraq", Editor & Publisher
published an examination of the story, stating that since Gordon "on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion" the fact that the sources were all anonymous "civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies" should be viewed with caution. Byron Calame
, the Times
' public editor responded to such concerns about the article and its author by stating, first, that "Mr. Gordon has become a favorite target of many critical readers, who charge that the paper's Iran coverage is somehow tainted because he had shared the byline on a flawed Page 1 W.M.D. article. I don't buy that view, and I think the quality of his current journalism deserves to be evaluated on its own merits." He proceeded to indicate that Gordon's article used anonymous government sources, that the claims reported about Iran "needed some qualification" about whether they were based on evidence or inference and that the reader "deserved a clearer sense" of whether the beliefs reported represented a consensus and that "editors didn't make sure all conflicting views were always clearly reported.
Calame's successor as public editor, Clark Hoyt, criticised the paper's military reports, quoting several articles by Gordon, as slipping "into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda's role in Iraq," and said that they failed "in using the language of the administration that identified Al Qaeda with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which Hoyt said was not the consensus opinion on the subject. A report on the subject from Editor & Publisher indicated "E&P and other news outlets last week had noted the same tendency in the Times in the reporting of Michael R. Gordon and others. A major article the following Friday carrying Gordon's byline , discussed the president's view on Al-Qaeda in Iraq, saying "his references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership", leading to puzzlement among some observers .