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The Judith Miller Lies

07.05.2005 10:38 | DISPATCHES

Time Inc. has capitulated to the special prosecutor investigating the outing of Valerie Plame, and it will turn over documentation to the government about the person or persons who contacted its reporter with the identity of a covert CIA agent.

To recap briefly: in 2002 Joseph Wilson is sent on a mission to Nigeria to determine if Iraq tried to purchase materials that could be used in a nuclear weapon. Wilson quickly finds that Ira did no such thing, and that in fact documents alleging the attempted purchase are amateur-grade frauds. President Bush nevertheless includes the Nigeria-“yellowcake” connection in remarks arguing for war. Wilson pens an op-ed refuting the President. Shadowy people within the Administration contact reporters, offering the tantalizing fact that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a covert CIA agent. Two of the reporters, the New York Times Judith Miller and Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper, don’t take the bait. Robert Novak, the conservative columnist and reptilian hack, does.

Revealing the name of a covert agent a) ruins the agent and forces her to be called home and b) is quite possibly a felony. The special prosecutor is appointed, and immediately begins harassing Miller and Cooper. For reasons unknown, he leaves Novak alone. Whenever Novak is asked about the case, he blusters and makes unctuous noises about his lawyer. Time eventually caves, the New York Times does not: Judith Miller now faces jail time if she doesn’t give up her sources.

Here’s my take: Miller doesn’t deserve what she’s getting, and her willingness to go to jail to protect a source is admirable. But there is a qualifier to my admiration. I think there is a big difference between protecting, say, a whistleblower or some other person acting in fear of the government, and protecting an agent of that government who trying to use the press as a tool in a dissent-smothering fear campaign. The traditional role of the press—a check on the excesses of government—would be better served in this case if Miller turned over her sources. I know this violates journalistic first principles but sometimes the outcome supersedes the process.

More importantly, though: Judith Miller’s current ordeal should be mistakenly interpreted as a sign that Judith Miller is somehow a reporter of integrity, or that she is a hard-nosed journalist at odds with the Bush Administration. Judith Miller’s credulous—and, as it turns out, entirely false—reportage on Iraq’s weapons program was a major boost to the Bush Administration’s case for war. Judith Miller did not do her due diligence when presented with claims about the Iraqi weapons program. She did not reveal to her readers that her anonymous sources—who turned out to be Ahmad Chalabi and his cohorts—had personal interests in seeing the US go to war. Judith Miller was not a journalist at a time when the country most needed journalists. At the time the country most needed journalists Judith Miller became Ahmad Chalabi’s stenographer. She became a hack for the Bush Administration. The Times admitted as much in its (too late) front page mea culpa about its shoddy prewar coverage, which included a transparent we-say-we’re-not-talking-about-Judith-Miller-but-everyone-knows-we-are disclaimer.

Yet now, because of Novak’s utter lack of integrity, Miller is in a plight that makes her seem like a journalistic hero. That someone can be held up as a hero simply for being better than Robert Novak shows how low our media has sunk. But the fact is that Miller now has speaking engagements at journalism schools—the topic, of course, being the importance of a free press. And that is sickening.

And while the public may have forgotten about her past sycophancy, Miller hasn’t. She knows she’s a naked emperor. When she gave a talk at UC Berkeley, she tried to bar reporters from attending, because she learned an LA Times reporter would be in the audience. That’s right. A journalist, giving a talk at a journalism school, on the importance of a free and independent press, tried to bar reporters from her talk (See the March 27 LA Times for the story).

Novak is a dog. He will get what’s coming to him, in this world or the next. But let’s not let Miller off easy. She is no one’s hero. And she was the White House’s hack.


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