Monday, October 17, 2005

Judy Miller betrayed her readers

A journalist's goal should be the pursuit of truth, and a journalist's loyalty should be to the public. An editorial at Raw Story explains how by not revealing the source whom leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to her, New York Times columnist Judy Miller failed in both regards.

Miller is currently being heralded as a martyr for the freedom of the press for the 85 days she spent in jail for refusing to reveal her source, now known to be Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby*, but I have difficulty seeing it that way. Consider that Miller spent months (18 to be exact) prior to the invasion of Iraq uncritically reporting the WMD claims of the administration which were generated by the White House Iraq Group that was formed with the specific purpose of marketing a war with Iraq. Miller also enthusiastically endorsed the "intelligence" coming from "Curveball" and Ahmed Chalabi, an individual whom Miller is known to have had a "long standing relationship with." This and her odd status as an embedded journalist, with - as she claims - a Department of Defense security clearance (a scandal in itself, say some), searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, makes Miller appear more like a public relations officer of the administration rather than anything else.

Walter Karp once wrote, cynically, that the code of "objective journalism" is: "Thou shall not think for thyself, seek instead a high-ranking source." Judy Miller appears to be the living embodiment of this principle. The most disgraceful example being when Miller reported in the Times, as evidence that Iraq had started up a nuclear program, the now (and even then quickly) discredited aluminum tubes claim. Miller had received the information from sources in Dick Cheney's office. Later that day, Dick Cheney, being interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press, cited the Times story on aluminum tubes in making his case for war with Iraq.

In her own take on the Plame situation, Miller reveals that in her talks with Libby she agreed to refer to him as a "former Hill staffer" in any stories that she might write. This is simply amazing. Surely knowing that Valerie Plame's identity had been leaked to discredit a critic of the administration (at least in retrospect once the Novak column came out a week or so later), Miller had agreed to not only conceal Libby's identity as her source, but to actively lead potential investigators astray by misleading them.**

One would think that the THIS was the story, that this is what Miller's public needed to know. Miller had insider access to the pre-war machinations of this administration, and yet she chose to instead withhold that information from the public. So I must ask, who did Judy go to jail for? I'll suggestively close with a point from the Raw Story editorial

There is always a quid pro quo; the real problem with the current system is that the quid of easy access to power is bought with the quo of easy dissemination of whatever message the powerful wish to transmit.
*Miller maintains that Libby did not disclose the name of Valerie Plame to her, despite the name "Valerie Flame" being in the notes of her talks with Libby. Curiously, she testified that she is unable to recall where or who she got the name from.

**Although misleading, its not technically untrue. Libby IS a former Hill staffer, but he is now a current White House staffer. Why this is deceptive, I'll asume, is obvious.

UPDATE - Reason magazine's Matt Welch seems to be thinking along the same lines.

To put it as plainly as possible, Miller didn't want to testify about the Vice President's right hand man not because he forbade her to—on the contrary, he gave her his authorization from the get-go—but rather because she had good reason to believe Libby wanted her to lie. And in Judith Miller's bizarre, journalistically compromised world, it is less important to catch a powerful official in a blatant lie than it is to protect your friendly relationship with a productive, high-ranking source.


Paschal Baute said...

Judy Miiller Saga Slimes Journalism and NY Times Slimes Itself, Shame!

Letter to Executive Editor, NY Times

The Judy Miller saga, with many lies and self-deceits, truly so embedded that she is "sleeping" (metaphor) with her sources, that is, ready to cover for them, even lie for them, slimes journalism. The Times executive staff by its lack of oversight slimes itself and its reputation.

Check the blogosphere to see the reaction around the globe from writers, editors, publishers, bloggers to the unfolding stories re her "security clearance," etc. What is emerging is that she refused to testify BECAUSE she was so deeply embedded in the drama that she could not be objective about any of it. Even when taken off the WMD and security beat, she stayed on those, apparently without reporting to any editor. That in itself is reason for firing a reporter.

She should be fired immediately, but that would be too embarrassing to the top dogs. When your own newsroom will not work with her because of her "elbows" and other characteristics, as is now well known, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.

Executive staff should appoint immediately an independent investigative committee to examine all aspects of this sorry saga, and employ very reputable ex Times staff, such as Alex S. Jones, at Harvard, for oversight. The whole story starting with her uncritical writing of White House propaganda pre Iraqi war, needs to be scoped, told and owned by the Times, a paper of now doubtful "record."

If you do not do it, others will and your paper will both deserve and endure much finger-pointing, derision and disdain.

Paschal Baute
Lexington, KY

Hume's Ghost said...

Yes, some are now saying that this will turn out to be far worse for the Times than the Jayson Blair fiasco ever was. I tend to agree.