Who is Judy Miller Kidding?
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Now that Judy Miller has finished testifying, finished spinning for the cameras on the courthouse steps, finished hugging her dog and finished eating that special meal she wanted her husband to prepare, she needs to do what Time reporter Matt Cooper did and immediately publish a full and truthful account of her involvement in Plamegate.
Because what she â€”- and the New York Times ' publisher and editor â€”- have said so far just doesn't add up.
The story being pitched to the public â€”- that Miller was a heroic, principled martyr who sacrificed her freedom in the name of journalistic integrity, then fulfilled her "civic duty" after she "finally received a direct and uncoerced waiver" from her source â€”- is laughable.
Indeed, it's already been greeted skeptically by 1) my increasingly frustrated sources at the Times; 2) a chorus of voices in the blogosphere, and 3) (and much more significantly) Joseph Tate, Scooter Libby's lawyer, who told the Washington Post that he informed Miller's attorney, Floyd Abrams, a year ago that Libby's waiver "was voluntary and that Miller was free to testify."
It defies credulity for Miller and the Times to keep insisting that Libby's earlier waiver was coerced when Libby says that it wasn't. I don't have much good to say about the vice president's chief of staff, but I don't doubt that he knows the difference between being coerced and acting on his own free will. How deep is the Times' contempt for its readers that it really thinks they'll buy the "Oh, Judy finally has the right waiver" line?
After appearing in front of the grand jury Friday, Miller was asked to describe her role in the case. "I was a journalist doing my job," she said.
But her role is actually much, much more complicated than that. Any discussion of Miller's actions in Plamegate cannot leave out the key part she played in cheerleading for the invasion of Iraq and in hyping the WMD threat. Re-reading some of her prewar reporting today, it's hard not to be stunned by just how inaccurate and pumped up it turned out to be.
During her incarceration, a Times spokesperson described Miller as "an intrepid, principled and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has provided our readers with thorough and comprehensive reporting throughout her career." But a "thorough and comprehensive" look at Miller's career reveals repeated examples of egregious reporting, a startling lack of objectivity, too-close-for-comfort relationships with dubious sources â€¦ and a penchant for far-from-thorough and far-from-comprehensive coverage.
Cut through the haze of revisionist portraiture and you might remember that Miller's byline appeared on four of the six articles that the Times apologized for in its unprecedented May 2004 mea culpa over its prewar news coverage.
What's more, Miller's involvement in Plamegate was a direct result of her WMD reporting. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's now famous Op-Ed piece, which raised the idea that the Bush administration had manipulated and twisted intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat, went straight to the heart of Miller's reporting â€”- and her credibility.
The Plame scandal took shape not only when the White House was under attack but when Miller herself was increasingly being attacked by critics for her deeply flawed dispatches. When she met with her anti-Plame source â€”- or sources -â€” she was not only still on the WMD beat but still a true believer promoting the administration's lies about Iraq's nonexistent WMD threat despite an avalanche of contrary information.
The inescapable fact is that Miller -â€” intentionally or unintentionally â€”- worked hand in glove in helping the White House propaganda machine sell the war in Iraq. And that includes Libby and his boss, Dick Cheney.
Before her transformation into a journalistic Joan of Arc, Miller was in a tailspin, her work discredited, removed from the WMD beat and forced to deal with colleagues who refused to share a byline with her. She desperately needed to change the subject and cleanse herself of the stench left by her misleading coverage leading up to the war â€”- coverage that makes the Jayson Blair scandal, by comparison, seem ludicrously insignificant. And there are few more effective acts of purification for a reporter than going to jail to (in PR theory) protect the 1st Amendment.
Miller went from pariah to icon, and the Times went from apologizing for her work to comparing her in a series of over-the-top editorials to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Talk about an Extreme Makeover.
There is no way that the Times' repeated claims that Miller was in jail as a matter of principle can be squared with her hair-splitting explanations for why she suddenly changed her mind.
And there is no way to accept at face value Miller's ongoing grandstanding about "fighting for the cause of the free flow of information."
Who is she still trying to convince? Herself?
This piece originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.