The View From 1776

Oxymoron: New York Times’s Journalistic Ethics

      http://www.thomasbrewton.com/index.php/weblog/oxymoron_new_timess_journalistic_ethics/

The Times’s firing reporter Judith Miller demonstrates that the lap dogs of its editorial board heel to the commands of liberal-socialist party propagandists, just as American liberals responded when Stalin jerked their chains in the 1930s.


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The New York Times has fired reporter Judith Miller.  Why? For articles that she wrote and they printed two years ago, and supported with editorials, at the outset of the Iraq invasion preparations.

Just as American liberals used to have to turn on a dime in the 1930s to reorient their propaganda message to conform with the latest pronouncement from Stalin, the Times had to repudiate Judith Miller’s reports to demonstrate that the editors are loyal propaganda flacks for the liberal-socialist party today. 

From 1933 until 1939 American liberals denounced Nazi Germany as an enemy of the Soviet Union.  Then in 1939 Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, and overnight Hitler’s National Socialists became American liberals’ heroes. 

Today’s situation parallels that of the socialist world in the 1930s.

Miller’s accurate reporting about the best available military intelligence at the time is now in embarrassing conflict with the new liberal-socialist propaganda campaign being readied for the 2006 Congressional elections.  Liberals are reviving the falsity that the Bush administration had no reason to invade Iraq other than providing additional revenues to Halliburton Company and that all of the administration’s statements were deliberate lies.

In 2003, major Democratic party luminaries, as well as the New York Times’s editorial board, agreed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  Today, that view must be repudiated and swept under the rug as the liberal dogs of political war begin biting at President Bush’s ankles.

We know that Judith Miller worked 28 years as a reporter for the Times and, during that span, won a Pulitzer Prize for her work.  Until very recently, she was regarded as a star reporter. 

But she made what in retrospect is the mistake of writing articles at the outset of the Iraq invasion preparations that agreed with the opinions of every top Democratic politician, namely that Saddam Hussein was a danger to the United States because he possessed weapons of mass destruction capability. 

Not just British, Israeli, and American intelligence operators believed this to be the case.  Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton, among others were on record agreeing with that assessment before the Iraq invasion.  President Bill Clinton, during his tenure also had declared it to be a fact.

One has to question the judgment, if not the sanity, of Sonny-boy Sulzberger, the times’s CEO and Darth Vader of the editorial board.  Like Lady Macbeth, guilt seems to have addled his mind, as he stumbles about moaning, “Out, out damned spot.”

Two years ago the public was exposed to New York Times self-recriminations over the Jayson Blair scandal.  Blair was a very young and inexperienced reporter given assignments, over the heads of more experienced reporters, to report on big news stories.  The only reason was that Blair fit the Times’s profile (illegal for law enforcement, but OK for “news” reporting) as a member of a minority oppressed by capitalists.  Failing to do proper fact-checking, the Times discovered afterwards that Blair was really just writing fictional reports from his Brooklyn apartment.

Frantically attempting to wash out that “damned spot,” Sonny-boy Sulzberger fired reporter Blair and two top editors.  But, overcome with guilt, he subjected Times readers to an embarrassing series of rationalizing apologetics published in his newspaper.

With the Judith Miller mess the New York Times once again has forced its readers to wallow in Sonny-boy’s bathos.  Do we really care about
young Sulzberger’s anguishing over whom to sacrifice to protect his own mistakes?  Is it our problem that he has to do it all over again to propitiate the gods of liberalism and the Times’s corporate board?  He could save himself time and energy by just staying on his knees.

Jason Blair retaliated in 2004 with his own book-length account of Sulzberger’s hypocrisy and the lack of editorial oversight and fact-checking that seems to have permeated both the national and Washington desks of the Times.  Will Judith Miller favor us with similar juicy details?

In any event, Ms. Miller hasn’t gone quietly into the night.  The following postings from her website present her side of the story, which the Times refused to print.

Response to Byron Calame’s Article

Barney,

I?m dismayed by your essay today. You accuse me of taking journalistic ?shortcuts? without presenting evidence of what you mean and rely on unsubstantiated innuendo about my reporting.

While you posted Bill Keller?s sanitized, post-lawyered version of the ugly, inaccurate memo to the staff he circulated Friday, which accused me of ?misleading? an editor and being ?entangled? with I. Lewis Libby, you declined to post the answers I sent you to six questions that we touched on during our interview Thursday. Had you done so, readers could have made their own assessment of my conduct in what you headlined as ?the Miller mess.?
You chose to believe Jill Abramson when she asserted that I had never asked her to pursue the tip I had gotten about Joe Wilson?s trip to Niger and his wife?s employment at the C.I.A. Now I ask you: Why would I—the supposedly pushiest, most competitive reporter on the planet—not have pushed to pursue a tantalizing tip like this? Soon after my breakfast meeting with Libby in July, I did so. I remember asking the editor to let me explore whether what my source had said was true, or whether it was a potential smear of a whistleblower. I don?t recall naming the source of the tip. But I specifically remember saying that because Joe Wilson?s op-ed column had appeared in our paper, we had a particular obligation to pursue this. I never identified the editor to the grand jury or publicly, since it involved internal New York Times decision-making. But since you did, yes, the editor was Jill Abramson.

Obviously, Jill and I have different memories of what happened during that turbulent period at the paper. I did not take that personally, though she never chose to discuss with me our different recollections about my urging her to pursue the story. Without explanation, however, you said you believed her and raised questions about my ?trust and credibility.? That is your right. But I gave my recollection to the grand jury under oath.

My second journalistic sin in your eyes was agreeing to Libby?s request to be considered a ?former Hill staffer? in his discussion about Wilson. As you acknowledged, I agreed to that attribution only to hear the information. As I also stressed, Scooter Libby has never been identified in any of my stories as anything other than a ?senior Administration official.?

The third ?troubling? ethical issue you raised ? my access to secret information during my embed in Iraq ? had been fully clarified by the time you published. No one doubts that I had access to very sensitive information or that I did work out informal arrangements to limit discussion of sensitive intelligence sources and methods to the most senior Times editors. Though there was occasionally enormous tension over whether and when I could publish sensitive information, the arrangement ultimately satisfied the senior officers in the brigade hunting for unconventional weapons, the Times editors at the time, and me. It also led to the publication of my exclusive story that debunked some of my own earlier exclusives on the Pentagon?s claim that it had found mobile germ production units in Iraq.

I fail to see why I am responsible for my editors? alleged failure to do some ?digging? into my confidential sources and the notebooks. From the start, the legal team that the Times provided me knew who my source was and had access to my notes. I never refused to answer questions or provide any information they requested. No one indicated they had doubts about the stand I took to go to jail.

Your essay clearly implies that the Times and I did something wrong in waging a battle that we did not choose. I strongly disagree. What did I do wrong? Your essay does not say. You may disapprove of my earlier reporting on Weapons of Mass Destruction. But what did the delayed publication of the editor?s note on that reporting have to do with the decision I made over a year later, which the paper fully supported, to protect our confidential sources? I remain proud of my decision to go to jail rather than reveal the identity of a source to whom I had pledged confidentiality, even if he happened to work for the Bush White House.

The Times asked me to assume a low profile in this controversy. I told everyone that I had no intention of airing internal editorial policy disputes and disagreements at the paper, as a matter of principle and loyalty to those who stood by me during this ordeal. Others have chosen a different path, ironically becoming ?confidential sources? themselves.

You never bothered to mention in your essay my decision to spend 85 days in jail to honor the pledge I made. I?m saddened that you, like so many others, have blurred the core issue of that stand and I am stunned that you refused to post my answers to issues we had discussed on your web site at the critical moment that Times readers were forming their opinions.

Judith Miller

Posted by Judith Miller | November 09, 2005

Responses to Byron Calame’s Questions

To: Byron Calame
From: Judith Miller

Responses to your Questions:

Oct. 20, 2005


Why did I not cooperate fully with fellow reporters on stories about the Valerie Plame inquiry?

1) I cooperated fully with Don Van Natta?s team for its story, despite being under considerable legal pressure not to do so. I spent over four hours talking to Don, first in a 90 minute on-the-record interview which my lawyer monitored because I was still under a contempt of court order. After the order was vacated, there were further on-the-record and background interviews which I gave while struggling on deadline to complete my own account of my grand jury testimony and writing testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee which had asked me to testify on the Federal shield law. I complied with all of the team?s requests except for its demand for access to my notebooks. I declined to provide these not only because my lawyers objected, but because the paper told me I was being treated in this project not as a fellow Times reporter, but as any subject of a Times story would be. These notes were part of what I went to jail to protect, and I was not about to share them with anyone who was not authorized to see them.

Why did I keep drifting back into national security reporting after Bill Keller took me off the beat?

2) I was not a loose cannon or insubordinate, self-assigning reporter. The reason I kept I kept writing about Iraq and weapons after my embed in Iraq had ended was that I was assigned to cover the Oil for Food scandal, which involved both Iraq and unconventional weapons, and to cover counter-terrorism efforts in New York, which also involved both topics.

How did I find the second notebook?

3) I found the second notebook I testified about only after I was released from jail. During my grand jury testimony, there had been some confusion over whether redacted notes of an interview I had done with I. Lewis Libby and which I provided to the special prosecutor were taken on July 12 at my home in Sag Harbor or during a briefer discussion with Mr. Libby earlier in the week. Under oath, I had promised the special counsel I would search for any additional notes I might have relevant to Mr. Libby and my Plame/Wilson testimony. On my first evening back at the Times while I was on the phone with my lawyer, Bob Bennett, I came upon the notebook as I was looking through a shopping bag filled with notebooks that were kept under my computer at my desk. Though the notebook was too early to be covered by the subpoena, I discovered that it contained an interview in June with Mr. Libby. Deciphering my notes, I was astonished to see it showed that Mr. Libby and I had discussed Joe Wilson and his trip to Niger, as well as his wife, two weeks before Mr. Wilson had published his attack on the Administration in The Times. I told Bob Bennett what I had found, and he immediately informed the special prosecutor.

Was I telling the truth when I said I couldn?t remember who first told me the name Valerie Plame?

4) As I told the grand jury under oath, I cannot remember who first told me the name of Joe Wilson?s wife, or ?Valerie Flame,? another name which appears in my notebook. I cannot remember when or why I wrote that misspelled name in my notes. The name is free-floating, separated by two pages from the end of an interview with Mr. Libby. It is not embedded in any other interview. I spoke to dozens of people when I returned from Iraq about a wide variety of WMD topics that I wrote about. I was not at all focused on the Wilson story and certainly had no idea that two years later Wilson?s wife would be at the center of a major political scandal and grand jury investigation. I cannot specifically recall having discussed Mr. Wilson?s wife with anyone other than Mr. Libby. No other sources on that subject are cited in my notes. But there were people with whom I discussed sensitive information for stories on other subjects that The Times did publish, and unless Mr. Fitzgerald had agreed to focus his questions to me on Mr. Libby and the Plame/Wilson affair, I could not have testified.

Why did you agree to change the attribution of Scooter Libby for a story?

5) I never did, and never would have identified Scooter Libby in print as a ?former Hill staffer.? Mr. Libby has never been identified in any story I have written as anything other than a ?senior Administration official.? While I was prepared to listen to what he had to say based on that attribution, I would have attempted to confirm the information he was providing through other sources, preferably on the record, or gone back to him to renegotiate a more appropriate attribution had I decided to write a story.

What was your assignment in Iraq and did you have access to secret information that was not shared with readers?

6) As part of my assignment with the soldiers who were hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I regularly had access to secret information. As a condition of this assignment, like other reporters embedded in sensitive posts, I signed a non-disclosure agreement which gave the military authorization to screen copy I wrote to prevent the disclosure of sensitive sources and methods. Because senior officers of the Exploitation Task Force were so concerned that this sensitive information not be casually discussed in my newsroom, I assured them that I would limit discussions of the most sensitive intelligence sources and methods to senior news executives. Reporters like me remained bound by these commitments after their embeds ended. Unlike many other newspapers and reporters, the Times and I noted the existence of such agreements in stories whose publication had been delayed by military review.

Posted by Judith Miller | November 09, 2005

Letter to Maureen Dowd

October 23, 2005


Dear Maureen,
I?m glad you always liked me. But in the interests of journalistic accuracy at a very sensitive time for The Times and for me, I wish you had checked some of these damaging assertions about me before you printed them. If you had, there are seven specific mistakes you could have avoided. As important, you could have avoided creating a false and damaging impression that I had tried to cover up for a crime, or that I had convenient memory lapses at the behest of the administration. Just to remind you, I never went to see Scooter Libby to hear character assassination against Joe Wilson. I was trying to get to the bottom of the intelligence failures that were very important to me because they had led to my publishing several incorrect stories based on that intelligence. As my Sunday story stated, the question I put to Libby was this: ?was the intell slanted?? The Joe Wilson discussion that day, and in subsequent interviews, was a small part of a much larger story I was trying to understand and tell so that I could offer readers who had trusted my earlier reporting, and whom I wanted to trust my future reporting, a more complete account of what had gone wrong in U.S. policy and intelligence.

As for the specific errors in your story, they include the following: First, I never intended to, nor did I mislead Phil Taubman, as I told both Barney Calame, the public editor, whom I asked to post my responses on his website, and Bill Keller, as Kit Seelye reported in her story today. To recap our Sunday story, Phil asked a group of reporters in the fall of 2003 whether we thought any of us had been targeted by the Administration as part of a deliberate campaign to put out information about Wilson?s wife. I was unaware that any such campaign existed, and if it did, that I did not think that I had been a target of it. That is one of the key issues that the special prosecutor has been trying to resolve for the past two years.

Two, it is completely untrue, as you say in your reference to me as badly needing a ?leash,? that I was an insubordinate, self-assigning reporter who kept ?drifting back? into areas from which I was barred. I kept writing about Iraq and weapons because I was assigned to cover the Oil for Food scandal, which involved both Iraq and unconventional weapons, and to cover counter-terrorism efforts in New York, which also involved both topics. Bill Keller and your close friend, Jill Abramson, approved both of those multi-story assignments.

Three, as I also told Calame, Scooter Libby has never been identified in any of my stories as anything other than a ?senior Administration official,? and never would have been identified in print in one of my stories in any other way. I accepted the attribution for the sole purposes of listening to the information, not publishing it. While I was prepared to listen to what he had to say based on that attribution, I would have attempted to confirm the information he was providing through other sources, preferably on the record, or gone back to him to renegotiate a more appropriate attribution had I decided to write a story.

Four, I did urge a senior editor to let me pursue a story on Wilson/Plame. As I told the grand jury under oath, I had proposed soon after my breakfast meeting with Libby on July 8th that the paper try to find out whether what Libby was saying was true or whether it was a potential smear of a whistleblower. I said I had felt strongly that because Joe Wilson?s op-ed column had appeared in our paper, we had a particular obligation to do so. I never identified the editor to the grand jury or publicly, since it involved internal NYTimes decisions. But since you did, yes, the editor was Jill Abramson. Obviously, Jill and I have different memories of what happened during that turbulent period at the paper. I gave my recollection under oath.

Five, I have already addressed the ?Valerie Flame? issue publicly in my answers to reporters at the Senate hearing on the shield law. And again, as I told Calame, ?more than two years later, I cannot remember when or why I wrote that misspelled name in my notes. The name is free-floating, separated by two pages from the end of an interview with Mr. Libby and written in a different color ink from my Libby interviews. It is not embedded in any other interview. I spoke to dozens of people when I returned from Iraq about a wide variety of WMD topics that I did write about. I don?t know why you and Tina doubt my word, but you should know that I gave this account under oath as well.

Six, the Associated Press story which you cited is untrue. While A.P. did not call to check, you might have. It is true that the special prosecutor asked about whether I had had an earlier meeting with Mr. Libby in June. But as I testified, the discovery of the notebook was prompted by an entirely different matter the special prosecutor had raised. Once again, I found the notebook, which was not covered by the subpoena, as I was searching for additional notes on where I was when I conducted my July 12th interview with Libby. As I told Calame, ?Under oath, I had promised the special counsel I would search for any additional notes I might have relevant to Mr. Libby and Plame/Wilson that would clarify whether the notes had been taken in a taxi in D.C. or at my home in Sag Harbor. On my first evening back at the Times while I was on the phone with my lawyer, Bob Bennett, I came upon the notebook as I was looking through a shopping bag filled with notebooks kept under my computer beneath my desk. I discovered that it contained an interview in June with Mr. Libby?I told Bob Bennett what I had found, and he immediately informed the special prosecutor.?

Seven, as far as ?nailing me to a chair to extract the entire story of my escapade,? my lawyers tell me that senior management of the Times, including Bill Keller, were briefed on all important aspects of this case where I was concerned. I held nothing back at such meetings and answered all questions they put to me. I remember that Bill attended several of these sessions.

I agree with you that reporters must be more than stenographers. The same is true of columnists. I hope you will correct the record soon.

Judy

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