Hoisted from comments. Understanding what Washington Post reporters think they are doing:
I agree absolutely with your assessement. Ricks' work goes far beyond the critique of the 4thID--it doesn't stand or fall (or rather, it falls) on whether he did or did not have sources "inside the iraqi resistance" or anywhere else at a particular time. His work stands or falls as propaganda, and falls of its own weight, because he didn't bother to report the inconsistencies, unliklihoods, falsehoods, and dreams with which he was presented when he was reporting on the ground as inconsistencies, unliklihoods, falsehoods and dreams. Instead he reported them, by his tone and his style, as "true." That was part of the war effort--part of the propaganda effort.
Ware's reporting is neither here nor there. A good reporter develops sources outside those in the military. To the extent that he is reporting only what the military says, he should always be aware that they will be lying to him at every minute. That is their job. Ricks and everyone else was warned that psy-ops and the resolve of the american people were paramount to the bush administration, and that controlling american opinion was a major part of the war effort.
I'd like to point out that whether you agree with bilmon's critique or not, it remains "incisive"--it may not be "conclusive" or it may not be "persuasive" but if it got any more incisive ricks' head would have bounced off his shoulders and down the road when he read it.
There is a division in time around each event. There is a point prior to which the outcome could have been changed, and past which the outcome is inevitable. I move my children's drink glasses back to the middle of the table, when they put them down near their elbows, because I know it will be too late to change the outcome once the elbow meets the glass.
I remember the frustration of reading the press day after day and finding only the case for war. I could go to the internet any day and find the case against. If I could do it, so could reporters. By and large, they did not.
This crap about "balance" that we hear from the press? Easy to manipulate. If I have the megaphone, all I have to do is say extreme things. Then whatever the other side chooses to say, balance will always be skewed in my direction. I'd guess Karl Rove has figured that out. Even balance was missing back when there was a chance to change the outcome. In the end, there is no balance when the press alternates between so-called "balance" and stenography.
The reason for a free press is that it informs the public in time for the public to have a real voice in government. That requires that the press tell us the other side, the side that opposes the desires of the powerful, while the outcome is still in question.
Ricks wants credit for doing a better job now that it's too late. Why? What good would it do? Rewarding behavior reenforces the behavior. Ricks' behavior was to give liars a voice when it mattered, then change his view along with public opinion. That is not the behavior we need to reward.
How about this? Ricks could, starting now, report extensively on the guys who got it right. Pundits, thinkers, other reporters. No "he said" for the Bush administration to balance the "she said" of early critics. The early critics have been proven right. That's the whole story.
How about if Ricks, rather than whining about how he improved, tell us how he intends to avoid doing a bad job next time? How about apologizing for failing his readers, his country, and the protections our forefathers granted his profession?