October 19, 2005
Out of Jail and in Disrepute
everything to be proud of and nothing to apologize for," New
York Times reporter Judith Miller told colleagues preparing
a story on Miller's testimony before a federal grand jury probing
a White House leak that targeted CIA employee Valerie Plame after
her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece
critical of the Bush administration.
I wouldn't be proud of everything. For one thing, Miller's explanation
-- as to why she agreed to testify, after serving 85 days behind
bars for refusing to do so -- is fishy, and late in coming. Her
source, Veep Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, had released her and other reporters from their confidentiality
agreement earlier. Also, Miller should not have agreed to identify
Libby as "a former Hill staffer" when he was a White
House staffer. She wouldn't be the first journalist to conspire
to mislead, but it was wrong.
Miller's testimony that she "could not recall" who told
her about "Valerie Flame." File that under: Hard to
remarks especially disturb me because I believe Miller has been
the journalism profession's unhappy scapegoat on the issue of
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
-- I got it totally wrong," she admitted in the Times
Sunday. "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who
covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong,
you are wrong." In this case, Miller was hardly alone in
believing Iraq had WMD. In 2002, CIA chief George Tenet had told
President Bush that the issue was a "slam dunk."
talk as if it was an act of aberrant willfulness for Miller to
buy what the CIA chief thought to be true. So they have taken
out their knitting needles and are calling for her head. They
want her fired. They want her investigated. They supported the
feds when they jailed Miller for refusing to testify.
concocted a convenient rationale about why prosecutors should
be allowed to force Miller to testify, in violation of her promise
of confidentiality. That is: Confidentiality should only protect
whistle-blowers and should not apply to high-up officials.
mean is: Promises of confidentiality should not apply to Bushies.
Meanwhile, two years into special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's
investigation, it is not even remotely clear that a law was broken.
The 1982 law requires that the CIA take "affirmative measures"
to hide the identity of a covert operative. At this juncture,
it is not clear that Plame was covert in 2003 or that Karl Rove
or Libby knew she had been. Those distinctions are highly material,
even if they are all but ignored by the Bush-haters.
The New York Times? The paper was overly slow to report
this story -- and top editors look bad for not getting the whole
story from Miller sooner. The Times also looked downright
silly this year when it redubbed Plame as "Valerie Wilson"
-- as it reported that Karl Rove told a reporter Wilson's wife
worked for the CIA, without naming her.
Times was right to stand by the principle that journalists
protect a promise of confidentiality. As New York Times Executive
Editor Bill Keller put it, "I hope that people will remember
that this institution stood behind a reporter, and the principle,
when it wasn't easy to do that, or popular to do that."
is the key word here. The left, and many journalists, enjoy a
conceit that, when journalistic controversies erupt, the right
will be armed with pitchforks, while the left thoughtfully hashes
out the finer distinctions. In this instance, the Bush-hating
left has been ready to discard its principles in order to discredit
a journalist who wrote stories it doesn't like. If they could
jail her for her reporting, they would. And like Miller, they're
proud of actions that calmer minds would not wish to broadcast.
2005 Creators Syndicate