Their 'defense' is very carefully worded:
Our front page story of October 25 reported accurately that a senior official at Iraq's Ministry of Science & Technology informed the International Atomic Energy Agency in a letter on October 10 that the materials were lost from the Al-qaqaa site after April 9, 2003, through the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security.
They are careful to say that they only reported the existence of this letter. They are not saying they ever tried to confirm its accuracy in any way, which they didn't. They are basically admitting that they chose to run a story on their front page, critical of an administration they are openly antagonistic towards, a week before the election, from a single source (that is also openly at odds with this administration) without any confirmation or investigation as to its veracity.
The agenda of ousting this "regime" was far more important to them than any sort of journalistic integrity, and they are openly admitting it.
Obviously the accuracy of the opinion of the Iraq's Ministry of Science & Technology is a secondary issue.
You nailed it.
Good point you're making here. Most of us never read between the lines and just see red. It is a shame that something like truth and integrity has lost all meaning for the fourth estate.