Readers of today’s New York Times learned that new assessments by intelligence officials paint a bleaker outlook for Iraq than the White House has been letting on.

Reporter Douglas Jehl, quoting senior administration officials, wrote that after the January 30 elections, the new Iraqi government “will almost certainly ask the United States to set a specific timetable for withdrawing its troops.”

The [intelligence] reports also warn that the elections will be followed by more violence, including an increased likelihood of clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, possibly even leading to civil war, the officials said.

This came as news to most Americans, but not to readers of most Knight-Ridder publications and its wire service subscribers. As Jehl dutifully notes far down in his story, Knight-Ridder broke (registration required) news of the intelligence report and its alarming conclusions on Monday (of Knight-Ridder’s major outlets, only the Philadelphia Inquirer elected not to run the story in its print edition, but it did post the piece on its Web site):

Instead of stabilizing the country, national elections Jan. 30 are likely to be followed by more violence and could provoke a civil war between majority Shiite Muslims and minority Sunni Muslims, the CIA and other intelligence agencies predict, according to senior officials who have seen the classified reports.

The scoop is the handiwork of Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott of Knight-Ridder’s Washington Bureau, whose coverage of the intelligence community over the past couple of years has been unequaled by the Bigfoots working at higher-visibility outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

As we noted in this space last June, Knight-Ridder’s Washington bureau “stood alone for its pre-war reporting that questioned the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.” That hard-nosed skepticism — we like to call it good reporting — continues, and it has produced breaking news on a regular basis.

Toiling away in relative anonymity, Strobel, Landay and Walcott have repeatedly shown that they know where the real story can be found — and it isn’t with the spinmeisters at the White House. As a result, their readers know, too.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.