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Judy Miller: Reporter or Operative?


As anyone who has followed the Plame case knows, a prime consideration among the news people discussing the case was whether journalism was damaged by Judith Miller's being made to testify and to reveal a source.  Most newsies now say that it was not, but — as emptywheel notes in her recent FDL post on the subject — the NYT's Max Frankel is still defending both Judy Miller and his paper on this issue.

Is this a legitimate consideration?  This depends in part on whether one sees Miller as a disinterested observer, merely reporting a story — or as an actively partisan operative for a particular political faction.  It also depends on whether or not Miller has outed other story sources, and whether it's ever OK to out a story source — and remember, Frankel is implying that the outing of a source is A Very Big No-No and is Never Ever Done.   

Let's look at the disinterested observer/reporter angle first.  

Judith Miller herself has explicitly rejected the traditional role of journalist as someone who examines the facts regardless of whether they hurt one's preconceived notions; as quoted by Michael Massing in The New York Review of Books in its February 26, 2004 issue, she says the following in response to being asked why she didn't include commentary from WMD skeptics in her stories:  "My job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal."  In other words, she's not a reporter, she's a stenographer for the Bush team.  (Miller would soon furiously claim to have been misquoted, but Massing, in the letters section of the March 25, 2004 NYRB, firmly stood behind his quotation of her: "Judith Miller is simply wrong. During my hours of interviews with her, she requested that I read back all of the quotes that I wanted to use, and I readily agreed. I distinctly remember reading back the quote in question, and I distinctly remember her approving it. I did this not 'reluctantly' but willingly and patiently, precisely so that I could guarantee accuracy and avoid the type of claim she is now making.") 

But we don't even need Miller's own words — words she's tried to disavow — to see that she isn't so much a reporter as she is an operative with an agenda.  As is clear to anyone who has been reading about this case at this site, DailyKos, The Next Hurrah, Eschaton, or pretty much anywhere else in the reality-based community over the last few years (not to mention emptywheel's excellent book Anatomy of Deceit), Miller was as much in the hip pocket of Ahmad Chalabi as were the rest of her neocon friends in the Bush Junta — so much so that she actually ordered around American soldiers on Chalabi's behalf.  (Trust me, I only wish I were kidding about that.)

As for the whole "outing a source is a no-no and is never ever done" gambit, well, guess what?  As emptywheel pointed out way back in the summer of 2005, Judith Miller has burned at least one source before (in this case, Amy Smithson), without needing to be hauled off to jail first — and nobody was running around saying that this spelled The End Of Journalism As We Know It.  Funny how none of Miller's defenders seem to know this little bit of her history.

But aside from this hypocrisy about the alleged sanctity of sources, Miller, as a person whose newspaper career spans three decades, should also be aware that in old-school journalism, if a source screws over a reporter with bad information, the reporter is free to out the source.  In fact, it is the reporter's duty to out a lying source.  As Atrios said, and reporters John Gizzi and David Freddoso at the conservative outfit Human Events demonstrated in 2004, "A source lies to you, and you find out, you burn him.  Period."   And goodness knows that Judy's sources fed her the most egregious garbage over the years, as the corrections to her articles attest.

Now, Max Frankel must know all of this.  He has to, he's a Timesman — one might almost say THE Timesman.  But his loyalty to the paper, and to a disgraced ex-Timeswoman who brought shame upon the paper (and, I suspect, a touch of loyalty to the ideology espoused by Miller and her neocon friends), not to mention the utter refusal overall to admit that (just like with Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee) they were hosed by the Republican Noise Machine, is interfering with his vision.   Otherwise I can't see how he would have let such a fundamentally dishonest piece as this one escape his keyboard.

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