Getting Judith Miller

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On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t have. Hard to say. Things were different then; it was 2003 and we, you know, we owned every one of you. [whitehouse.gov]

Every time we think we understand this story, we sit down to pick it apart and realize that we have only a thread of it. We’ll know a lot more soon — Patrick Fitzgerald has to indict someone, sometime — but in the meantime, what’s going on?

Chris keeps saying that this is really a story for a novelist, and the best way to fill in the massive gaps in what we know is with conjecture about the human bits of this story: What kind of person is Judy Miller? Why did the Times go out on a limb for her, and for that matter, what’s her deal with Sulzberger? And, if you’re just coming to this story, we can start with the really basic “Please, someone explain to me Miller, Sulzberger and Fitzgerald, and what they have to do with each other. Please.”

Jay Rosen, when we called him this morning, told us two things: First, for Miller to be effective she needs an editor, and she hasn’t really had one for a while. Second, Sulzberger failed to realized that in order to throw the full weight of the Times behind Miller, he needed to keep Executive Editor Bill Keller out of the decision-making. You can’t, says Jay, be a journalist and a loyalist at the same time.

We’re grasping at pieces of this story, and when all is revealed it will be vast and gorgeous. In the meantime, we’re talking to Jay, who burns for this story, and a couple of others.

Jay Rosen

Author, Pressthink

Joshua Micah Marshall

Author, Talking Points Memo

Arianna Huffington

Publisher, The Huffington Post

Kevin Drum

Author, Political Animal

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  • Hey Brendan,

    This topic annoys me. I don’t really care about Judith Miller. Except as a signpost of why we can’t trust corporate media. Real journalism is left at the door when the news becomes about money for stockholders. I won’t even turn on the TV news anymore. They smile as they speak of someones tragedy. Its all entertainment.

    Judith Miller has been a dupe of one form or another. It seems that her personal ambition and personal perceptions far outweighed any journalistic sensibility that she may have had at one time. The Bush administration used her and the NY Times let them get away with it. Now we’ve invaded a country (calling its own people the insurgents) and we’ve outed an undercover CIA agent. I wouldn’t give her the time of day. All this attention is simply fodder for a book so that she can get rich after she can’t practice journalism any more.

    And why is she still on the NY TImes payroll? Who benefits from that? I used to trust the NY Times. That’s gone now.

    Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t care who Robert Novak’s other source was. And whether he will get indicted for a crime. Didn’t he and his newspaper commit a crime the moment they printed Valerie Plame’s name?

    And has there been a conspiracy to block the investigation into the outing? And is that really to protect the consipiracy to manufacture the evidence and facts to support invading a country?

    I’m much more interested in talking about whether lying to the public in order to go to war is an impeachable offense. We thought we could impeach a man for a private act that impacted no one but those involved but we can’t imagine impeaching this man who has caused the deaths of so many in order to generate profit for his constituents. If we, as a country, had the will to pursue the truth, we’d be chasing that story. Not memorializing a dangerously feckless journalist.

    Unless, of course, we think she’s the first breadcumb on the trail….

  • You know, grand jury testimony is supposed to be secret. Yes, those who testify are free to sing, often to cover their own fanny against idle speculation. But why are the armchair critics (sorry, savior-bloggers) desparate to learn what was in Judy Miller’s notes? Can they let the investigation finish before setting up the stocks in the town (times) square? Granted, we only have an investigation because the executive statmeent “any leakers will be fired” was tossed into the recycle bin, alongside the pre-scooterized CIA analysis.

    Meanwhile, while the press-commentariat was wrapping their heads around this, Bob Cox was trying square up the apparently conflicting accounts among the major news services about the turnout for the Iraqi elections. Oh, some other time. There’s always another election.

    One question for Jay:

    In May he hailed the Siegel Committee report (see Preserving Our Readers’ Trust). Two weeks ago on this show, he frowned because the Times didn’t take the bold move that the Washington Post did– “hiring someone from Kansas.” So, what’s the matter with… never mind. In the ensuing five months, can we look into whether the committee’s recommendations are on track for the Times? Or does the Thriller of the Miller continue to generate the filler?

    Not to worry, Miller Time will wrap up in eleven days. I’m betting that an indictment on obstruction charges for a “former Hill staffer” will scoot this story off the front page, and into a forgotten desk drawer.

  • bloggeddown

    What is the difference between a journalist, a reporter and an administration shill?

    When do we, the American public ask how to tell the difference between op-ed as news, news as theatre, and facts as travesty?

    The NYT should be ashamed that they have allowed the distinctions to be blurred, so much so that we cannot tell where Miller’s lies, distortions and fantasies start and end. This issue what information to trust is perhaps the most important question, in all media – and even more so when it involves such an important institution as the NYT.

    It is indeed the weakening power of fact, as Jay Rosen is saying right now.

    It is the breakdown of the firewalls between:

    religion and the State

    journalism and the State

    science and the State

  • John

    Isn’t this Jason Blair all over again? Editors intimidated of reporters? And why did John Bolton visit her in jail–does that strike anyone as strange?

  • bloggeddown

    Kevin Drum is way off base, as usual.

    Colin Powell stood up at the UN and lied to the world.

    We were told lies, clear lies.

    The culture of journalism should be the truth – not that there are 2 sides to each issue.

  • Potter

    So how did we all get hijacked into this war? Let’s remember how Bush exploited 9/11 and fearmongered the country into this war as he continues to try do to this day to less and less effect. Before that fateful day, Bush had nothing meaningful to focus his presidency on.

    And what is the matter with us? Why aren’t we impeaching this president?

    Why did we ever elect him? Or did we? Why was it close? Why did we do it again? Or did we?

  • LeeJudt

    Whatever the disposition of the Judith Miller it doesn’t have much to do with whether the war in Iraq was worth fighting.

    The linking of these two issues cheapened the program tonight, IMHO.

  • JeffSmith

    So here’s the take of a Democrat long active in the party at the local, state and national level. It’s purely speculative. But I offer it as a plausible course of events that may be proved to be true or more likely faulty, but one that can be tested and I suspect will worked out to be not far from the mark.

    Over the past five years active Democrats have been enraged that the media and press almost never went beyond repeating the Republican line. That’s not to say that we don’t know that the press prints critiques of the administration only insofar as Democrats – elected Democrats – did the criticizing. Mainly the press sees itself as only reporting what’s happening and waits for the public to react. But it never tries to hold the administration to account.

    But now the administration has moved out of the realm of public policy – the purview of politicians like me – and into that of the Press. I expect the press to fight back as vigorously as we have tried only with a vastly larger megaphone. Democrats will benefit only if we have something better to offer. I think we do, but I might not be reliable on this.

    Now for Judy Miller. Why did she have a secret clearance?

    With the workup to the War the administration needed a voice in the press and got Judy for whatever reasons – maybe the luck of the draw, maybe they had a previous history. One of her principal roles was to serve as the conduit to the American public from Ahmad Chalabi. In order to give her access to him, which was the Administration’s pressing need in their effort to make our invasion of Iraq legitimate, she had to have clearance, which would also prevent her from reporting what they wanted to be kept secret. If this is so, it shows a cynical form or gagging the press.

    So Judy used Ahmad as her “single source� in her effort to convince us that the coming war was justified. One might wonder if she had not been embedded in the NYT to report to the administration on the workings within the Newspaper of Record. I guess that here I’m suggesting that Judith Miller might just be another Armstrong Williams only playing for higher stakes.

    Miller’s job was reporting to the public the administration position on the war. She also served as a conduit from Chalabi to the administration, or so I expect. If this is correct then several things are also likely. Foremost, she was involved in the planning of the response to the rising concerns about going to war. She is reported to have thrown a fit trying to stop the publication of Ambassador Wilson’s op-ed. Why would she do that unless she had knowledge of how it would affect the administration’s justification for the attack?

    If this is true it would explain the delicate dance between Miller and Libby. She was concerned about being grilled by the grand jury over something that she could not talk about – “national secrets� that she could not divulge to such an inquiry. Moreover, it seems very likely that she had conversations with Cheney about all of this, given her closeness to the whole group. Could this have been on Judy’s mind when she chose jail over testimony?

  • With a few pressive guests

    aired back by popular supply,

    I’ll construct a daft poet

    to drum out a tardy reply:

    to Monday’s show I offer somepathy

    for the beating of dead horses

    who would have galloped to life

    with the Knight-Ridder sources.

  • gregbillock

    Just listened to this show. I think this whole episode may mark a sea change in newspaper readers’ relationship with newspapers. In the culture struggle, are newspaper readers going to stomach the flagship paper choosing to employ a “reporter” who won’t report what she knows about a very important story–the story of how the Bush administration argued the case for the war in Iraq? This is THE issue of the Bush presidency.

    The bond a newspaper has with its readers is that it takes their money and uses it to employ reporters who will tell us the news. If instead it is giving institutional cover to administration flacks who use its prestige as a propaganda bully pulpit, and worse, will not report on itself when it KNOWS the story of why it did what it did in this case, it has broken the contract with newspaper consumers.

    Perhaps Cable TV news consumers will welcome the NYT with open arms. The rest of us have to hope blog news grows up fast.

  • Potter

    This Maureen Dows column belongs in this thread… so forgive me NYTimesSelect. It was also 2nd most emailed today when for the most part the columnists behind the firewall have not made to to most emailed…. Potter

    October 22, 2005

    Op-Ed Columnist

    Woman of Mass Destruction

    By MAUREEN DOWD

    I’ve always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate’s Becky Sharp.

    The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy – her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur – have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.

    Once when I was covering the first Bush White House, I was in The Times’s seat in the crowded White House press room, listening to an administration official’s background briefing. Judy had moved on from her tempestuous tenure as a Washington editor to be a reporter based in New York, but she showed up at this national security affairs briefing.

    At first she leaned against the wall near where I was sitting, but I noticed that she seemed agitated about something. Midway through the briefing, she came over and whispered to me, “I think I should be sitting in the Times seat.”

    It was such an outrageous move, I could only laugh. I got up and stood in the back of the room, while Judy claimed what she felt was her rightful power perch.

    She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet “Miss Run Amok.”

    Judy’s stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House’s case for war. She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that Senator Bob Graham, now retired, dubbed “incestuous amplification.” Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.

    Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.

    When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D. issues. But he acknowledged in The Times’s Sunday story about Judy’s role in the Plame leak case that she had kept “drifting” back. Why did nobody stop this drift?

    Judy admitted in the story that she “got it totally wrong” about W.M.D. “If your sources are wrong,” she said, “you are wrong.” But investigative reporting is not stenography.

    The Times’s story and Judy’s own first-person account had the unfortunate effect of raising more questions. As Bill said yesterday in an e-mail note to the staff, Judy seemed to have “misled” the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case.

    She casually revealed that she had agreed to identify her source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, as a “former Hill staffer” because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. The implication was that this bit of deception was a common practice for reporters. It isn’t.

    She said that she had wanted to write about the Wilson-Plame matter, but that her editor would not allow it. But Managing Editor Jill Abramson, then the Washington bureau chief, denied this, saying that Judy had never broached the subject with her.

    It also doesn’t seem credible that Judy wouldn’t remember a Marvel comics name like “Valerie Flame.” Nor does it seem credible that she doesn’t know how the name got into her notebook and that, as she wrote, she “did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby.”

    An Associated Press story yesterday reported that Judy had coughed up the details of an earlier meeting with Mr. Libby only after prosecutors confronted her with a visitor log showing that she had met with him on June 23, 2003. This cagey confusion is what makes people wonder whether her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project.

    Judy refused to answer a lot of questions put to her by Times reporters, or show the notes that she shared with the grand jury. I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy’s case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.

    Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover “the same thing I’ve always covered – threats to our country.” If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  • I would imagine posting a link would be safer, since the NYT could whip out a request to remove your post completely. You take your chances.

    The other week the Rosen and others were discussing what value Maureen Dowd brings. Well, when Rosen calls for Miller’s head, it’s not news. When Miller’s colleague, Dowd, calls her a Woman of Mass Destruction, that’s pretty remarkable.

  • loki

    Let’s face the truth. Judith Miller leaked the information to the Bush administration. That’s why she will not fess up to the times. That’;s why the Times will let her go. She is the multi-valient leaker.