These accompanying pages contain a detailed account of a Monitor story that turned out to contain false allegations. We believe the episode involves a number of important principles that deserve some explanation.
We deemed the story itself important both because of its alleged substance and its timing. In the chaotic aftermath of the Iraq war, the abandoned files of Iraq's massive bureaucracies were suddenly open for looters, soldiers, and reporters to sort through at will. This was not a situation with established ground rules for journalists trying to obtain important and reliable information. Yet many of these documents opened new windows on the ways of the Hussein regime and its connections to the outside world.
When a Monitor reporter obtained documents detailing one such connection - purported payment from Iraq to one of its most steadfast and outspoken supporters in the West - it was not the first such allegation. Documents asserting similar payments had already been discovered the same week by a British newspaper. And we deemed it important because opening these windows into the workings of the regime and its outside linkages matters to making sense of an important historical moment. Those goals go to the most basic purpose of this newspaper, founded by Mary Baker Eddy with a stated object to "Injure no man, but to bless all mankind."
That is why we, on the basis of our assessment of information available at the time, went to press detailing the contents of six documents that described payouts to a British member of Parliament.
However, journalism always involves a potential tension between speed and accuracy, and the decision on when to publish a story rests with the editors here in Boston. We view this episode as instructive on that point, and hindsight tells us we did not strike the perfect balance. When new information cast doubt on the documents, we conducted an extensive investigation of their authenticity which culminated this week in the virtual certainty that they were forged.
We strive daily to be truth tellers. That is our way of blessing mankind. On this story, we erred. Our report said what we knew, honestly and carefully. With this follow-up story Friday, we are continuing our effort to tell what we know, as fully and fairly as we can, to set the record straight.