What's the policy, Judith?

News & Politics

It's hard to believe that once a key fact about a major story is put out there that it's not permanently incorporated into the bigger picture.

But it's clear that things do get missed, and even when they are splashed, they don't always stick with the Big Story. Take for example the fact that Karl Rove was fired in '92 by Bush Sr. for smearing an enemy through Bob Novak. That should be one of the context sentences right next to the one that lays out that this whole thing started with a July 2003 column by Novak; "Rove has a history of smearing his enemies through Robert Novak -- it's a practice he was caught and fired for by the first Bush president in 1992." A simple sentence like that will do, and clearly has a lot of relevance to the current story. The L.A. Times wrote an article devoted to this historical note when the Rove scandal mushroomed in July, but the L.A. Times and the rest of the press haven't made much reference to this as a stock fact afterward.

Here's another major missing factoid in the burgeoning Judith Miller side of the scandal -- which I heard while listening to Democracy Now! more than a month ago. Sidney Blumenthal and Norman Solomon were the guests on Goodman's show talking about the Rove scandal. Blumenthal said something I had not heard before, and to this date have not seen reported elsewhere:


"...I believe that journalists should not protect bad sources. In fact, there's an internal New York Times policy about that. Is it being adhered to? These are questions that the Times really must answer internally right now, as their own reporter languishes in jail, now in her ninth day.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that policy for one minute?

SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL: The policy is that if a -- journalists make arrangements, contracts, if you will, with sources about information, and they agree to protect their anonymity, but not to an ultimate degree. If a source is not acting in good faith, has provided you with false information, damaging information, damages the credibility of your news organization, then your obligation to that source is invalidated. That's an internal New York Times policy. It's the policy of many newspapers and news organizations.

Geddit? It is sanctioned policy from the top that New York Times reporters -- and I'm guessing Time Magazine and Post reporters as well -- don't have to protect bad sources. That can be anything from someone who is lying to you to a person whose information, if you reported it, would damage the credibility of your news organization -- which, as we know, is what news publishers & editors hoard like dragons. It's a big part of why people justify paying $1 for a copy of the Grey Lady, after all.

This policy is an excellent threat for reporters to wield when they are dealing with their sources; it means that they have the go ahead from upstairs to write an article saying that so-and-so is pushing lies or disinfo to reporters, effectively branding them with a journalistic mark of Cain. Novak's source(s), Miller's source(s), Cooper's source(s) all clearly fit with this internal policy. Of course, this internal policy also gives these same writers who used the same sources -- like Rove and Libby -- to push us into Iraq free license to expose them as liars, even years after the fact.

But in terms of the Rove scandal, it makes Miller look utterly ridiculous for sitting in that cell. Her employer has given her a green light not to protect (a.k.a. reveal) her bad sources -- it in fact encourages her to say who they are to keep the reputation of her paper in high standing. It would seem pretty clear that she knows this, and so does Bill Keller, the editor at the Times. Which would imply that there is some gigantic collective guilt that Judith is taking the fall for, and that the folks at the top of the paper who have played along with this charade are lying. Doesn't it?

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