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Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center

In back-to-back front-page stories Saturday and Sunday (9/1/07 and 9/2/07) the New York Times gave readers sharply different assessments of the situation in Afghanistan six years after the U.S.-led invasion to defeat the Taliban -- the one a sobering account of significant setbacks for allied forces over the past year based on the newspaper's first-hand reporting, the other a senior administration official's casual citation of Afghanistan as success story that went unchallenged in the Times account. In the first, a free-ranging interview of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Helene Cooper, Rice was uncharacteristically self-reflective, acknowledging the difficulties she faced as national security adviser during President George W. Bush's first term and the fact that for many the missteps on war with Iraq will define her legacy. But Rice obviously sees the intervention in Afghanistan in a different light -- and judging from the story, so does the Times: "She [Rice] said the recent visit to Camp David by President Hamid Karzai gave her some solace," Cooper wrote, "as a reminder that American policies have helped spread democracy and moderation in unlikely places." Readers interested in a check on just how far "democracy and moderation" has spread in Afghanistan need look no further than the Sunday New York Times and the exhaustive report by David Rohde of security reversals over the past year in southern Afghanistan. The headline and subheads sum up what he found: "Afghan Police Suffer Setbacks as Taliban Adapt / Stalemate in the South / Gains by NATO and U.S. Troops Aren't Consolidated." That Secretary Rice would paint Afghanistan in the rosiest of hues is no surprise; she's done that consistently for six years. That the Times would let her do so, with no attempt at context or challenge, is. Jon Sawyer

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