The ironies of history are plentiful. Richard Nixon opened relations with Red China, Deep Throat was lap dog for J. Edgar Hoover, Dan Rather was a cheerleader for war, and Judith Miller was a mouthpiece for the lies that led to war. Now, she is a martyr for her profession.
When you play with the devil, sometimes you get burned.
When Newsweek Magazine revealed the desecration of the Koran by American interrogators, the White House laid the blood of the innocent at the reporters’ door. If there was any justification for that charge (there was in fact precious little), what then can be said of the reporter whose tireless “journalism” gave credibility to the now infamous weapons of mass destruction fraud? What can be said of an esteemed professional who shamelessly espoused the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection? Is there no blood on her hands?
As a reporter for the New York Times, Judith Miller was used by the White House to prosecute an illegal war of aggression that may ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Instead of learning her lessons and coming clean, she maintained her ties and secured her position as the print media point for White House propaganda.
She was leading the charge to war with Iraq, Syria and North Korea before the curious case of Valerie Plame imploded and brought her operation to a close.
Like Dan Rather before her, Judy Miller has left us in a quandary. We believe in freedom of the press but we also believe that Judy Miller has prostituted her profession to the White House propaganda machine.
Thus far, we have been given confusing accounts of what happened in this strange and baffling story. This much we know: Robert Novak was employed in a cheap, dirty trick, exposing an active undercover CIA agent in retaliation for her husband’s objection to the administration’s fabricated case for war. This despicable action placed her life and the lives of her associates in danger, blew the cover off covert operations, and thereby threatened the national security.
In a curious spin, Judy Miller’s defenders (Robert Kuttner, Boston Globe) claim that she was not contacted to publish the malicious outing but rather contacted her White House sources to discover the source of the leak. We know that Miller did not go public with the story, so what can we surmise?
First, that Miller was named by someone -- presumably by her own contacts since no one else should have known. In that case, Miller would owe her sources nothing. The principle of protected sources cannot apply to protecting the very individuals who would put you in jail.
Second, she must have learned who the leak was though she chose not to reveal it. Had she done so, she would have been serving the public good as well as fulfilling her journalistic duty. Had she done so, she would no longer be a White House darling but her current quandary would be heroic indeed.
If she did not discover who the source was then there is literally nothing to protect. She would simply be called upon to state for the record that she contacted certain White House officials and learned nothing. Case closed.
Clearly, there is no scenario we can surmise that would paint Judith Miller a hero.
We have heard Miller’s colleagues in the media rally to her defense on the curious grounds that this is somehow retaliation for the Times’ antiwar stance and wondered: What planet have they been living on? The Times was at the head of the list in promoting the cause of war and its subsequent mea culpa was something less than sincere.
We have heard them proclaim in tones of utter disbelief: She is going to jail for a story she never published! I admit I have joined that chorus but now I understand that publishing that story was both her responsibility and her redemption. That she chose not to publish is her own mea culpa.
Is she a journalist or a propagandist?
Did the story fail to serve her cause?
Did it threaten her good standing with the White House?
Of course, none of this can explain why Robert Novak is not in Judith Miller’s shoes. What sort of deal did he cut? Unfortunately, given the state of American journalism, we can have little confidence that anyone is even trying to get to the core of this story. Moreover, there is the holdover case of the Bolton memos (demanded by the Senate, withheld by the White House). Given the Downing Street memos and the inexplicable refusal of the White House to yield on this matter, these are potentially explosive documents yet neither Miller nor her courageous colleagues seem interested.
There is also the outstanding question of what Miller knows that Matt Cooper of Time Magazine (released by the court when he agreed to cooperate with the blessings of his source) does not. Apparently, their sources are not the same. As Kuttner of the Globe rightly observed: Something stinks to high heaven.
The curious case of Judith Miller of the New York Times forces us to reconsider the rights and responsibilities of the media. Unfortunately, it comes down to this: If a journalist is employed in the commission of a federal crime (like plotting an assassination), he or she is not protected by the first amendment.
In this case, it seems amply clear that Robert Novak was the triggerman and no one has the right to protect the man who ordered the hit.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: www.jackrandom.com.
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