A preposterous article about alleged weapons of mass destruction was published on the front page of The New York Times about a month after the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq.

You get a flavor of the piece, written by then-Times reporter (and current Fox News contributor) Judith Miller, from the stilted headline: “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert.”

“Is said to assert”? How many degrees of separation from reality does that imply?

All I know is that the article came just in time to photocopy and distribute to my class of reporting students at Western Washington University in Bellingham as an example of the kind of thing that should not pass muster for print in the student weekly, much less in what is arguably the world’s most prestigious and influential newspaper. They got it.

The piece violated every standard for a complete and credible news story, providing virtually no named sources and none of the elements of a basic news story, the Five W’s and H: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Miller reports traveling with a military unit hunting for “unconventional” weapons and being brought to a vaguely described site where an unidentified Iraqi “scientist,” unknown to her and whom she had not met, was viewed from a distance pointing to spots in the sand where he supposedly said illicit weapons materials were buried. After three days of being forced by prior agreement to sit on this “discovery,” she submitted her article to military censors before sending it off to the Times.

This sorry and painful instance of journalistic collapse – not only by Miller, but also by all of the editors who decided that what she wrote was fit to print – would hardly warrant revisiting now, except that she is begging to be kicked around again by blazoning her professional behavior before and after the invasion in a new book.

In that regard, Miller’s begging ought to be rewarded. Her recently published screed, “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” is a shameless apologia justifying a record of tendentious reporting that helped rationalize the Bush administration’s calamitous decisions to invade and occupy Iraq.

Somebody ought to be kicked around for that, but Miller forswears any blame for herself while rightly suggesting that her sources and her bosses ought to volunteer to receive some kicks of their own.

There was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no collusion between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, but most of the media, including the Times, and most of the public and our political leaders drank the Kool-Aid for war.

Miller doesn’t say she is a “perfect reporter,” but the faults she admits to are the endearing faults you might ascribe to Rosalind Russell as fast-talking ace newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson: a little too much booze, too many sharp elbows, too much ambition and being too late in filing expense accounts. But, she says, she never lacked skepticism. If she was wrong on the big stuff, it was everybody else’s fault.

This year I taught a course in international communications at the University of Southern Maine, and I regret that I didn’t take the opportunity to talk with my terrific students about Judith Miller and the Iraq war.

There are analytical lessons that could be drawn from that topic, especially during a time when we are discussing a possible widening of the coalition war against the Islamic State to more countries in the Middle East and when relations with Iran could easily take a belligerent turn.

 First, look for signs of media and government connivance to start a stampede in a single direction. Suddenly galvanized unanimity of opinion in the mainstream media with dubious evidence should be a tipoff that we are being manipulated.

And second, if unsubstantiated articles with tricksy phrasing – such as, “is said to assert” – start appearing to bolster a dangerous course, be wary. The New York Times isn’t likely to suspend the rules by publishing stories without the 5 Ws and H unless it has an agenda other than good journalism, and that should be met with profound suspicion.