Judy Miller: Do We Want To Know Everything or Don't We?

Not everyone in the Times building is on the same page when it comes to Judy Miller. The official story the paper is sticking to is that Miller is a heroic martyr, sacrificing her freedom in the name of journalistic integrity.

But a very different scenario is being floated in the halls. Here it is: It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war -- and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.

This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her "source" at the White House -- because she was the source. Sure, she first got the info from someone else, and the odds are she wasn't the only one who clued in Libby and/or Rove (the State Dept. memo likely played a role too)... but, in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn't an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it. This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn't to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson's motives. Which Novak did.

This version of events has divided the Times into two camps: those who want to learn everything about this story, and those who want to learn everything as long as it doesn't downgrade the heroic status of their "colleague" Judy Miller. And then there are the schizophrenics. Frank Rich is spending his summer in the second camp, while at the same time writing some of the most powerful and brilliant stuff about the scandal: "This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit...is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped up grounds... That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war."

But this unmasking -- if it is to be complete -- has to include Judy Miller and the part she played in the mess in Iraq. Of course, the division over Miller is nothing new... it predates her transformation into media martyr by many months. For an early look at this rift, check out Howard Kurtz' May 2003 reporting on the way Miller ferociously fought to keep Ahmad Chalabi, her top source on WMD, to herself and the anger it caused at the paper. And also the paper's extraordinary mea culpa from May 2004, in which its editors admitted that the Times' reporting on Iraq "was not as rigorous as it should have been" -- yet steadfastly refused to even mention the less-than-rigorous reporter whose byline appeared on 4 of the 6 stories the editors singled out as being particularly egregious. "It looks," the Times' public admission concluded, "as if we, along with the administration, were taken in." And yet just two months earlier, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller called Miller, who was one of the main reporters "taken in," a "smart, well-sourced, industrious and fearless reporter." Nothing about her less than "rigorous" reporting. Nothing about her reliance on Chalabi being less than "well-sourced."

Any discussion of Miller's actions in the Plame-Rove-Libby-Gonzalez-Card scandal must not leave out the key role she played in cheerleading for the invasion of Iraq and in hyping the WMD threat. Re-reading some of her pre-war reporting today, it's hard not to be disgusted by how inaccurate and pumped up it turned out to be. For chapter and verse, check out Slate's Jack Shafer . For the money quote on her mindset, look to her April 2003 appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, where, following up on her blockbuster front page story about an Iraqi scientist and his claims that Iraq had destroyed all its WMD just before the war started, Miller said the scientist was more than a "smoking gun," he was the "silver bullet" in the hunt for WMD. The "silver bullet" later turned out to be another blank -- and the scientist turned out to be a military intelligence official.

Amazingly, however, even as her reporting has been debunked -- and her sources discredited -- Miller has steadfastly refused to apologize for her role in misleading the public in the lead up to the war. Indeed, in an interview with the author of Bush's Brain , James Moore, she, in the words of Moore, "remained righteously indignant, unwilling to accept that she had goofed in the grandest of fashions," telling him: "I was proved fucking right."

As recently as March 2005, in an appearance at Berkeley, she stubbornly refused to express regret. Indeed, she showed that she shares a key attitude with the Bush administration: an unwillingness to admit mistakes when faced with new realities. She even compared herself to the president, saying that she was getting the same information he was getting... and suggested that since he hadn't apologized, why should she? Maybe she's angling for the Tenet treatment: promote faulty intel, get a Medal of Freedom. Miller also echoed the words of Don Rumsfeld ("You go to war with the Army you have") when she justified her flawed reporting on WMD by saying "You go with what you've got." Really? Wouldn't it be better to wait until what you've got is right?

It's nice that Bill Keller is visiting Judy in jail giving updates about how hard this is for her, having to be away from her family and friends. But it would be even nicer if we'd had some acknowledgement from Miller of her complicity in sending 138,000 American soldiers away from their family and friends. And, unlike Miller, they won't be returning home in October. Indeed, as of today, 1,785 of them won't be returning home at all.

This story gets deeper with every twist and revelation, including the reminder (via Podhoretz) that Fitzgerald had a previous run in with Miller over her actions in a national security case, and the speculation (via Jeralyn at TalkLeft) that Fitzgerald is considering seeking to put Miller under criminal contempt, rather than the civil contempt she's now under.

But one thing is inescapable: Miller -- intentionally or unintentionally -- worked hand in glove in helping the White House propaganda machine (for a prime example, check out this Newsweek story on how the aluminum tubes tall tale went from a government source to Miller to page one of the New York Times to Cheney and Rice going on the Sunday shows to confirm the story to Bush pushing that same story at the UN).

So, once again, the question arises (and you can't have it both ways, Frank): when it comes to this scandal, do you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth or do you want the truth -- except for what Judy Miller wants to keep to herself?

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.