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That Awful Power: How Judy Miller Screwed Us All
By James Moore
Source: The Huffington Post
Okay. I couldn't stand it any longer. When I saw the quote today from a New York Times spokesperson about Judy Miller, I blew coffee through my nose. "Judy is an intrepid, principled, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has provided our readers with thorough and comprehensive reporting throughout her career." I am submitting the lengthy piece below to prove precisely otherwise. I don't care how many awards Judy Miller has, she is a miserable failure who has irreparably harmed her country with bad journalism and by allowing her own personal beliefs to infect her reportage. Below is but one example. This is an edited excerpt from a book I wrote, which no one ever read, called "Bush's War for Re-election." And I am not trying to sell a damn book. I don't care if anyone ever buys it. But I do want people to know what this woman did:
"If you don't want to work, become a reporter.
That awful power, the public opinion of the
nation, was created by a horde of self-complacent
simpletons, who failed at ditch digging and shoe
making, and fetched up in journalism on their
way to the poorhouse."
Connecticut Evening Dinner Club, 1881
Judith Miller of the New York Times, stood at a distance. A man in "non-descript clothing," wearing a blue baseball cap, emerged from a military vehicle, and walked into the Iraqi desert. As he pointed to the ground in several locations, the man was watched by American soldiers of the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha.) According to Miller, the unnamed individual was an Iraqi scientist with more than a decade of experience in Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons programs. Supposedly, he was showing the U.S. troops where he had buried deadly compounds and other agents.
Three days later, Miller, in a front page story for the U.S.' most influential newspaper, wrote a fourteen hundred word story entitled; "AFTEREFFECTS: PROHIBITED WEAPONS; Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert." In her lead paragraph, Miller said that she and the MET Alpha team members had discovered the proof of Weapons of Mass Destruction, a Bush Administration argument for invading Iraq.
"A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade," Miller wrote, "has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said."
Based upon what the MET Alpha team had related to Miller, she reported that the scientist had led them to the site south of Baghdad because it was where he had buried evidence of an illicit weapons program. Her story also included the mysterious scientist's charges that Hussein had transferred illegal weapons to Syria, and was cooperating with Al Qaeda. She suggested that the discovery supported charges from the White House that Iraq was developing such weapons, and had lied about it to the United Nations. Miller also quoted the commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division, Major General David Petraeus, who said the findings were likely the "major discovery" of the war, and of "incalculable value."
The story did not reveal, however, if Judith Miller spoke to the scientist.
Her report did not include quotes from the man. Nor is there any indication she saw his face, or if she was told his name. There was no evidence Miller was permitted to learn where the scientist lived, or worked. Every piece of information she delivered to the front page of the New York Times appeared to come from secondary sources, the soldiers serving on the MET Alpha squad. Nothing showed independent confirmation, or corroboration, and Miller disclosed as much in her narrative.
"Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials. Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted. They said they feared that such information could jeopardize the scientist's safety by identifying the part of the weapons program where he worked," Miller wrote.
The scientist, if, in fact, he was a scientist, had come to the attention of the U.S. occupation force when he handed soldiers a note saying he had information on weapons. A part of Miller's justification for writing her story appeared to be this hand-written message. Penned in Arabic, she was shown the document by an officer of MET Alpha. Although Miller does not speak or read Arabic, the note, seemingly, lent the scientist's assertions some credibility. If it was translated for Miller, she did not say in her alarming story.
"I had an independent translation," she said in a later interview. "There were at least two separate translations of that letter, and I couldn't use either one of them because it would tell you who he [the scientist] was, and he was living in a hostile neighborhood that was filled with Ba'ath Party officials. He would have been in danger."
In Miller's narrative, there was no reportage on the text of what the scientist had written. Nonetheless, Miller did write that the scientist had led the Americans to a "supply of materials that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons," even though she never gave any more proof of those allegations to than the unidentified man pointing at a bare spot in the Iraqi desert. She also offered as fact that material unearthed over the course of three days had proved to be precursors to toxic agents, which had been banned in Iraq by the United Nations. At no point did Miller say she was shown these materials, or provided evidence that they were, in fact, deadly elements to chemical or biological weaponry.
Even Judith Miller's editor, Andrew Rosenthal, seemed unaware of how the story had been acquired. In an e-mail exchange with Russ Baker of The Nation, Rosenthal said that the article "made clear that Judy Miller was aware of his [the scientist's] identity and in fact met him, but was asked to withhold his name out of concern for his personal safety." Actually, the report failed to clarify how close Miller came to the scientist, making an unusual journalistic confession that the correspondent was not allowed to interview the actual source of her news report.
"I have a photograph of him," Miller explained. "I know who he is. There's no way I would have gone forward with such a story without knowing who my source was, even if I got it from guys in my unit. You know, maybe it turns out that he was lying or ill-informed and what he said cannot be independently verified. He did say he worked in a security lab in Baghdad, and he took MET Alpha there and retrieved materials."
The commander of MET Alpha, Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales, said the scientist was an Iraqi insider with important knowledge.
"In terms of information that I had access to, up until the time I handed him over to another operation, I considered it important," Gonzales said. "It helped us to understand everything that was taking place, and allowed us to realize some things that we just didn't recognize until we hooked up with this guy. You know, until that point I was looking for stockpiles of WMD. For me, he represented the turning point on how we needed to proceed with entire operation. His intell was hugely important. It changed everything on how we were to proceed."
Judy Miller was clearly convinced of scientist's credibility. On the same day her story was published, April 21, 2003, Miller appeared on Fox News to talk about her reportage, and the next day, on PBS Television's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. During Lehrer's program, the correspondent was interviewed by Ray Suarez, who asked a tenaciously, obvious question.
"Has the unit you've been traveling with [MET Alpha] found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?"
Miller's response was even more affirmative than her Times story.
"Well, I think they found something more than a smoking gun," she told Suarez. "What they've found is a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we've called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them, firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions."
Although the "startling conclusions" had not been proved, the story written by Miller began to live in a greater fullness across the entire spectrum of American media. On the Fox network, Bill O'Reilly used Miller's writing to argue the war had been justified.
"Reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times does believe the weapons are there," O'Reilly said on his popular, nationally broadcast program. "She spelled out the weapons yesterday."
Of course, what a journalist "believes" is not relevant. The issue must always be what a journalist knows, and Miller did not know the compounds had been buried at the site she visited with MET Alpha. No proof was ever offered. She only knew that a scientist had told MET Alpha where they were located, and MET Alpha had told her.
In an extensive analysis of Miller's story, conducted by the American Journalism Review, Charles Layton described how the bad information was undergoing a mutation on cable television. Interviewed on MSNBC, Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute had turned the one, unnamed scientist into a plural, lending further credibility to the allegations printed by Miller.
"The scientists [emphasis added] told the New York Times," he said, "That they had buried the chemical weapons."
Another reporter, cited by Layton, Brett Baier, wrote about Miller's appearance on Fox television. He, too, had made the jump to multiple scientists, implying the information in Miller's story was completely open-sourced.
"In an interview with Fox today," Baier wrote, "Miller talked about the importance of the information the scientists [emphasis added] had provided."
The transcript of Miller's appearance on The NewsHour showed that she was, at least, partially culpable for creating the impression there was more than one scientist.
"But those stockpiles that we've heard about," Miller told interviewer Ray Suarez, "Well, those have either been destroyed by Saddam Hussein, according to the scientists, [emphasis added] or they have been shipped to Syria for safekeeping."
Going even further, almost endorsing Bush Administration policies, the reporter used the plural a second time when Suarez asked if her story confirmed the White House's belief that Iraqis would start talking as soon as they had been freed by American forces.
"And that's what the Bush administration has finally done," Miller replied. "They have changed the political environment, and they've enabled people like the scientists [emphasis added] that MET Alpha has found to come forth."
According to American Journalism Review, Bush advisor, former CIA director James Woolsey distorted Miller's language even more dramatically during an appearance on CNNfn. Woolsey told interviewer Lou Dobbs, the scientist said, "He had been ordered to destroy substantial shares of nerve gas." Miller, obviously, had written nothing related to nerve gas. Her story described only "building blocks" or "precursors" to chemical and biological weaponry. Dobbs, though, was apparently not informed sufficiently enough to correct Woolsey.
Just as had happened with Judith Miller's initial page one scoop about aluminum tubes, the story of the Iraqi scientist was running away to live on its own. In what has become conventional process for American journalism, the details and limited facts were tortured by cable television's talking heads until the original spare substance of the report was unrecognizable. The tenuous information provided by Miller's work was constantly reframed by pundits to give it greater political weight and purpose, and as legitimate local newspapers, subscribers to the New York Times wire services reprinted the story, its allegations began to seep into the American consciousness. The U.S. had found proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The president was correct. War was justified.
The New York Times plays an unparalleled role in U.S. journalism. Each morning, editors from television networks, major metropolitan daily papers, producers for cable talk shows, and local broadcast and print editors, scan the pages of the Times in their own efforts to determine what news is. Additionally, the Times distributes much of its editorial content via a subscriber wire service to publications around the world. In the case of Miller's WMD story, reprints appeared all across the American landscape.
In the Rocky Mountain News, an edited version was published with the unmistakable headline: "Illegal Material Spotted." Distorting even further, the subheading claimed, "Iraqi Scientist Leads U.S. Team to Illicit Weapons Locations." The hyperbole of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was even more blatant. The headline, "Scientist Says Iraq Retained Illicit Weapons," was completely overshadowed by the disturbing subheading, which asserted: "Outlawed Arsenals Destroyed by the Iraqis Before the War." Although they are only two examples of communities where the story found great purchase, there was barely a statement of fact in any of those headlines.
Suddenly, the New York Times, often accused of being the publishing arm of America's progressive-liberal thinkers, was assisting the neo-conservative cause. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh burned up nine minutes of air time on Miller's story, calling it, "a big, huge, very important story." On his Web site, Limbaugh argued, "If this appeared anywhere other than the sainted New York Times, many liberals would be out there pooh-poohing it. Since it appears there, what are they going to say?"
People like Jonathon Tucker, a former U.N. weapons inspector, who was with the Monterey Institute of International Studies at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said the story ought not to be regarded as serious journalism.
"It's very vague and not corroborated," he said. "I don't view it as definitive. It's pretty thin on the evidence."
The executive director of the Arms Control Association, Daryl Kimball, blamed management of the Times as much as he did Miller for an editorial lapse.
"What's surprising and I think disappointing is that the New York Times, not just Judith Miller," he said, "chose to take at face value the initial assessments of a U.S. investigations team that certainly has a vested interest in finding WMD in Iraq."
Miller was, of course, aggravated by assertions she was used by the Bush administration.
"You go with what you've got," Miller said. "I wish I were omniscient. I wish I were God. I wish I were God and really knew. But I'm not God. And I don't know. All I can rely on is what people tell me, and whether or not it is true. That's all an investigative reporter can do. You go with what you've got, and if you find out that it's not true, you go back and write that. You keep chipping away on an assertion and find out if it stands up. That's all I have done, and, I think, quite frankly, I've done quite well at it. It's mystifying and infuriating to be accused of being a mouthpiece for the administration."
Regardless of any accuracy questions, Judy Miller's reporting was feeding into the national discourse. Miller also got attention for something else she had done, which some editors and writers felt had troubling implications for journalism. Her disclosure that she had agreed to "terms of accreditation" set off whorls of dismay in the profession. "Terms of accreditation" was an anomaly in reporting. Journalists don't accept terms. They report information they are able to acquire, and independently corroborate. Any source offering terms, regardless of what kind of information they might deliver, has, historically, been ignored. Miller, however, accepted ground rules laid out for her by the U.S. military and the MET Alpha team when she wrote about the alleged Iraqi scientist. Furthermore, she turned over the copy she had drafted so the military was able to scrutinize her language, and whether, in fact, they accepted her version of events.
"You have to accept terms to get to be an embed with a unit like MET Alpha," she explained. "No reporter could have gone with them without agreeing to protect the unit's work, and not expose them or their sources to danger. That's just the way it was. Lots of reporters agreed to terms of accreditation when they became embeds with combat operations. I was certainly not the only one. But I had to talk my head off to get into this unit. I was not wanted there."
The same day Miller's disclosure of her terms was published, Jack Shafer of Slate savaged the decision of Times' editors to allow their correspondent to make deals with the military.
"Most pungently," Shafer wrote in his Pressbox column on the media, "She consented to pre-publication review—oh, hell, let's call it censorship!—of her story by military officials. Did the ‘military officials' who checked her story require her to redact parts of the story, or did she do so on her own accord? Were any other ‘terms of accreditation' imposed on Miller? Other levels of censorship? Are other Times reporters filing dispatches under similar ‘terms of accreditation'? When and where were the terms of accreditation negotiated? Where are they stated?"
While not quite as acidic, Editor and Publisher magazine decried the odor Miller's work was dispersing through journalism, and it referred to several other stories she had filed, including a later discredited report that mobile biological labs had been found by the U.S.
"Surrounding this whole saga," William E. Jackson, Jr. wrote, "there is the smell of compromised reporting, using and even colluding with tainted Iraqi sources, while essentially surrendering detached judgment to the Pentagon. The Times has a serious obligation to scrutinize Miller's reporting, and editors' editing, on the threat that was widely advertised as the primary reason for sending American and British soldiers off to war."
A Pulitzer Prize winner, Judith Miller is an elite, international journalist at the nation's most prestigious newspaper. Her published resume' and her body of work show her to have expertise on the Middle East. She has written best-selling books on the region and its politics. Miller is also recognized as a specialist who writes with authority about germ and biological warfare. Six months after her controversial reports on aluminum tubes, and the unnamed "baseball-capped" scientist, Miller had spoken publicly only to American Journalism Review about the professional fury generated by her work.
In a later interview about the controversy surrounding her work, however, Miller said she believed she was the victim of petty jealousy and competitiveness from the Washington Post.
"Bart Gellman [Post reporter] tried as hard as he could to knock down my scientist story," she said. "But he couldn't. If he has been beaten every day in the field, what would you expect him to report? My response wasn't to try to knock him down when he beat me."
A talented correspondent with a discerning eye for facts, Bart Gellman of the Washington Post is a bit baffled by Judy Miller's charges. According to Gellman, his trip to Iraq was timed to take place after the fall of Baghdad, as the search began for weapons of mass destruction, and he had no choice but to write about Miller's bombshell piece on the "baseball-capped" scientist.
"I did not come to debunk her stories," Gellman said. "And, in fact, I made only one reference to any of her stories. That was about the scientist and the baseball cap. Of course, I was asking about that. Before I had arrived, she reported that Iraq had destroyed a whole arsenal of weapons, which was a very obviously a big story. No one would know that. You have to ask the basic questions as to how we know that. She was not allowed to identify the scientist or name the program he claimed to work in. She said he showed investigators precursors to WMD. But she couldn't say what precursors or what weapons. And independent experts can't determine credibility of those claims without knowing those two things. I don't think I ever made any other reference to any of her stories beyond that."
Refusing to back off from her belief that the Post was out to prove her wrong, or incompetent, Miller believes the main reason Gellman traveled to Iraq was to rebut her work. Gellman, of course, finds such an assertion to be absurd.
"Did she really say that?" Gellman asked. "I'm not sure how any journalist can feel like a competitor on a huge running story would travel five or six thousand miles to write about her, instead of the story. I wrote about what I saw, and what was important. She did the same. All of my quotes were on the record. And look, I wasn't writing about same unit she was reporting on. I can't imagine she thinks those stories I published were about her. I guess I can't imagine Judy Miller thinking I came to Iraq to report on her. I came for weapons stories. People should judge for themselves whether my stories hold up. And I'm not interested in talking about her stories."
As scrutinized as Miller's writing has been, how she got her information was a matter of as critical importance as what she did with it. By her own admission, the majority of stories she wrote about weapons of mass destruction came from Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled leader of the U.S. backed Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi, who had not lived in Iraq for four decades, was a convicted Jordanian embezzler. According to a military court in Amman, Chalabi embezzled $70 million dollars from the Petra Bank, which he founded in the 1970s. The case was tried in absentia after Chalabi had fled the country. Friends said Chalabi was framed by Jordanians who were political allies with Saddam Hussein because Chalabi was trying to fund a resistance effort to overthrow the Iraqi leader.
He was persistent in his attempts to remove Hussein. Chalabi was a capable lobbyist, and convinced the U.S. Congress in 1998 to pass the Iraq Liberation Act, which was the first formal call for "regime change." Funded out of the State Department, Chalabi was given $4.3 million dollars of American taxpayers' money to promote this cause. Unfortunately, a State Department audit of his spending revealed that more than half of that figure was not properly accounted for. After his bookkeeping skills were shown to be lacking, Chalabi's financial provider became the Pentagon, and he reportedly burned through an estimated $100 million dollars to fund his dream of an American assault on Iraq.
Often described as an abject military failure for his absurdly designed plans to invade Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi served the purposes of the Pentagon and the Bush Administration. Consistently, the Iraqi exile fed both the White House and military intelligence operatives the kind of information they needed to politically justify moving U.S. troops into Iraq. The CIA, however, considered much of Chalabi's information to lack credibility, and constantly warned the Bush White House to be skeptical of its value. Chalabi's knowledge of Iraq's armaments, which ought to have been perceived as less than objective by American leaders, was the beginning of the Bush Administration's tactic of cooking intelligence reports, and pressuring operatives who disagreed with Chalabi's assessments. Chalabi's reports almost always turned out to be wrong. He was, after all, the individual who had convinced Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraqi citizens were certain to greet U.S. troops as liberators, and that hardly any resistance was to be expected. Chalabi first made the claim on ABC News.
There is also proof that Ahmad Chalabi was the primary source for some of Judith Miller's reporting on weapons of mass destruction, and that proof came from Judith Miller. Another New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner, Baghdad Bureau Chief John Burns, had become angered at Miller over a story she had written about Chalabi. Burns had not assigned the piece to Miller, and sent her an e-mail chastising her for stepping in front of another correspondent.
"I am deeply chagrined at your reporting and filing on Chalabi after I had told you on Monday night that we were planning a major piece on him, and without so much as telling me what you were doing," Burns wrote. "We have a bureau here; I am in charge of that bureau until I leave; I make assignments after considerable thought and discussion, and it was plain to all of us to whom the Chalabi story belonged. If you do this, what is to stop you doing it on any other story of your choosing? And what of the distress it causes the correspondent who is usurped? It is not professional, and not collegial."
The electronic note, which had been obtained by media critic Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, was published in his column, including Miller's response to Burns, which amounted to a confessional.
"I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years," Miller told Burns, "and have done most of the stories about him for our paper; including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper." Miller went on to explain to her boss that she had been traveling with the Army's Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, which "is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. Since I'm there every day, talking to him, I thought I might have been included on a decision by you."
When Howard Kurtz published Miller's e-mail in the Washington Post, he appeared to be launching a war within the war. Media arguing over the quality of competing reporters' work, undoubtedly, added further complications and confusion to the process of getting stories correct from the war zone. Miller's pieces tended to be first, if not as comprehensive as critics might have wanted, and Kurtz and the Post were consistently beaten. However, the Post's articles often had elements and independent voices not included in Miller's reports from the war zone. The Post also was egregiously wrong, in many cases. After being told an inspiring tale about the bravery of Private Jessica Lynch, the Washington paper ran a narrative of how the diminutive soldier gallantly fought to the end, was stabbed by Iraqis, and resisted until overwhelmed. None of that, of course, was borne out by facts. Lynch was unconscious and debilitated in a deadly vehicle accident, which killed several other people in her military company. The Post never retracted the story.
Exposing Miller's e-mail and showing her as someone who worked with Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress appeared to be the Post's attempt to prove she was playing into the White House's hands. Chalabi clearly had an agenda, and the Post's reporting was an effort to associate Miller with him and the Bush Administration.
"Of course, I talked with Chalabi," Miller said. "I wouldn't have been doing my job if I didn't. But he was just one of many sources I used while I was in Iraq."
There was also a good chance Chalabi and the White House were working on Miller, even though, as a seasoned correspondent, she was an unlikely candidate for manipulation. A former CIA analyst, who has observed Miller's professional products and relationships for years, said he had no doubt of how the lines of communication were operating.
"The White House Iraq Group had a perfect deal with Miller," he said. "Chalabi is providing the Bush people with the information they need to support their political objectives with Iraq, and he is supplying the same material to Judy Miller. Chalabi tips her on something, and then she goes to the White House, which has already heard the same thing from Chalabi, and she gets it corroborated by some insider she always describes as a ‘senior administration official.' She also got the Pentagon to confirm things for her, which made sense, since they were working so closely with Chalabi. Too bad Judy didn't spend a little more time talking to those of us in the intelligence community who had information that contradicted almost everything Chalabi said."
Miller's style had been to grab headlines and front page placement with alarming allegations. Deeper into the pieces, she offered lines of skeptical copy, though rarely, if ever, did she quote authoritative voices who scoffed at what was asserted in her story's lead. She did that in follow up stories, which frequently did not get the same prominence in the newspaper. In some reports, the only consideration Miller gave doubters was to quote unnamed White House sources who told her "skeptical scientists were in the minority." This may have been caused by logistical challenges or the fact that many people in government who disagreed with the administration were ordered to keep quiet. Intimidation of sources might have affected editorial balance in many of Miller's reports, which were filed before she was able to find skeptics to quote.
After writing her front pager, "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War; An Iraqi Scientist is Said to Assert," on April 21, Judy Miller jumped on PBS television the next day, and called the scientist "more than a smoking gun" and a "silver bullet" in America's quest for Saddam Hussein's WMDs, and said MET Alpha had made "the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons."
Oddly, the story she filed the day after these claims on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, basically, said what she had written about the scientist and his allegations, just two days earlier, was, suddenly, obsolete information. Headlined, "Focus Shifts from Weapons to People behind Them," Miller did her best to explain a "paradigm shift," which apparently had taken place almost overnight, as she slept, and after she had been on PBS. The story, however, had to have already been written the same day she was on PBS, or, perhaps, right after she filed her original piece on the "baseball-capped" scientist, otherwise it would have never made the next day's paper. In any case, the paradigm shifted sometime between Monday and Wednesday. Whenever it shifted, Miller was on top of it. The same MET Alpha soldiers who had told her the scientist had led them to buried chemicals may have told her the paradigm was shifting, possibly as soon as a few hours after they had taken her to the site, simply because they checked and found nothing sinister under the ground where the "baseball-capped" enigma had pointed. If that's the case, what was the value in Miller writing the first story when she knew she was very quickly, in less than two days, writing another piece, which invalidated the first report? Perhaps this change in perspective actually occurred more slowly but appeared to be a few days because Miller's original piece on the scientist was held for three days by the U.S. military before it was released for publication.
Again relying on unnamed sources inside of MET Alpha, Miller wrote that America's WMD strategies were in a constant state of flux. Originally, the source told Miller, U.S. troops were looking for the vast stores of WMD, which had been detailed in Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council. After finding nothing in half of the 150 targeted locations, they began to seek "building blocks" and "precursors" to those weapons. That effort, too, proved fruitless, and now, Miller's MET Alpha source informed her, their focus had shifted to finding scientists, like the one she had written about two days earlier, to prove there was, in fact, a WMD program.
Miller's copy sounded to some like a tinny rationalization for her blockbuster from earlier in the week. "Based on what the Iraqi scientist had said about weapons being destroyed or stocks being hidden, military experts said they now believed they might not find large caches of illicit chemicals or biological agents, at least not in Iraq."
That was how Miller clarified the "paradigm shift."
Slate's Jack Shafer, who had led the critical charge against the correspondent's work, was indignant at the sudden change in her editorial slant.
"Paradigm shift, my ass!" he wrote in his column. "[U.S. Secretary of State Colin] Powell's intelligence report insisted there were tons of WMD and now the military—and Miller—are preparing us for their complete absence. That's what I call the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons!"
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz was also critical of Miller's closeness to the MET Alpha team, stepped up the professional antipathy between the two newspapers. Quoting a half dozen military officials involved in the operation, Kurtz said that The New York Times' reporter, according to what he had been told, turned MET Alpha into a "rogue operation," or as one source suggested, "a Judith Miller team." MET Alpha, which was a part of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, was integral to the U.S. military's attempt to find WMD. A senior staff officer with the 75th Exploitation Task Force, quoted in the Post article, said, "It's impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better."
The commander of MET Alpha was incensed when he read Kurtz's story.
"That really pissed me off," said Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales. "She had absolutely no influence on any of my decisions. Anybody who knows me knows that's not the way I operate. I saw [Bart] Gellman [Post reporter] come in and it was patently clear the animosity he had for Judy Miller and the Times. He didn't come in to get a story about MET Alpha or WMD. What he was doing was very personalized. They [the Post] already had their thesis statement and they were trying to prove it. That's what I saw unfolding. It was strange. Kurtz wrote his article without ever having been over there and all of it was second hand information. I think he was just looking for support from a third party to back up his position about Judy and that's why they sent Gellman over."
Gellman, who sounded as though he had not heard of Miller and Gonzales' accusations, said they were totally without substance.
"I don't know how either of them could think they know those things," he said. "I spent maybe four or five minutes in conversation with Judy. Mostly just pleasantries. About the same with Gonzales, who did not want to be interviewed. I did ask XTF [Exploitation Task Force] headquarters if I could go over on several missions. But I was not allowed to go. I asked to interview those MET Alpha guys. But that never happened either. They considered Judy's arrangement with them to be exclusive. But he [Gonzales] wasn't hearing me ask questions while I was there, and neither was she."
Kurtz wrote that Miller had influence on leadership's decisions about how to use MET Alpha troops. He did not, however, speak with the commander of the unit, CW3 Richard Gonzales. Kurtz said he had been unable to reach Gonzales. According to the commander, though, no attempts had been made to ask him for an interview.
"Let me just tell you," Gonzales said. "He [Kurtz] did not speak to me. I was not contacted. And no one ever tried to contact me. They said I'd refused to comment. That's nonsense. He wrote this story that completely distorted everything, and was almost completely factually wrong. The picture it painted was really distorted. I didn't even know who Howard Kurtz was until I read that story."
Kurtz argued his case for Miller's influence by publishing a note she had sent to MET Alpha senior officers. On the same day that her story on the "baseball-capped" scientist appeared in the Times, MET Alpha was ordered to withdraw to a small town in southern Iraq. The U.S. may have thought there was less value to the scientist's claims than did Miller's editors. The correspondent, however, was described by Kurtz as upset, and she sent a hand-written note to two different public affairs officers, which sources interpreted for Kurtz, as a veiled threat.
"I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil," she wrote. "Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel til (sic) MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the NY Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made."
"Essentially she threatened them," an officer told Kurtz. "She would publish a negative story."
One Army officer said Miller was not subtle about her control and connections. According to Kurtz's sources, Miller often referred to her relationships with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and others at the Pentagon, including Undersecretary Douglas Feith.
"Judith was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense," the officer said. "There was nothing veiled about that threat,"
Miller refused to talk to Kurtz because he had published her internal e-mail to John Burns. Her editor, however, Andrew Rosenthal, defended her performance in Iraq.
"We think she did some good work there," he said. "We think she broke some important stories."
"Singling out one reporter for this kind of examination is a little bizarre," he later added. Rosenthal also argued that characterizing Miller's note to the public affairs officers as a threat was a "total distortion of that letter."
Regardless of the Times protestations, some conclusions from events are unavoidable. According to Kurtz, Miller went to the commander of the 101st Airborne, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, and asked that the order to the southern Iraqi town be rescinded. Col. Richard McPhee, who commanded the 75th Exploitation Task Force, did not report to Petraeus. He did, however, pull down his orders for MET Alpha's withdrawal from the field. Miller got what she wanted.
Miller's version of events in her interview with American Journalism Review was that Gonzales did not want her to write about the "baseball-capped" scientist, but she "put her foot down," and made plans to return to New York to write the story "in defiance of the Army." She insisted that she was pressured by her editors to stay and negotiate a compromise, and that is when she chose to go to Petraeus to get a quote. His words, she argued, are what convinced MET Alpha's Gonzales that it was okay for her to publish the story.
MET Alpha commander Gonzales said Miller's interpretation of what happened is factual, not the Post's.
"I'll tell you this, too," he said during a lengthy telephone interview. "There was huge heartache that Judy's story [about the scientist] even got printed as it was. The fact that she was able to print as much as she did was a direct result of her own persistence. This was a serious, dedicated woman. And I took her wishes to tell her story, and I went directly to General [David] Petraeus about what we could release without jeopardizing security. We sure weren't going through and editing her work. But we were making sure she wasn't harming operational security. She was privy to a great deal more information than she published, and she wasn't happy about the fact that she couldn't release more than she did."
The record of MET Alpha's actions, nonetheless, may also reveal the nature of Judith Miller's relationships with the commander of the unit, and Ahmed Chalabi. When Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonazales, who was the leader of MET Alpha, was promoted, Miller was involved in the ceremony. An eyewitness related to the Post's Kurtz that she had pinned the bars to his uniform, and that Gonzales thanked Miller for her contributions. Kurtz claimed that he was unable to get Gonzales to comment on the claim.
"If he'd ever bothered to ask me about this," Gonzales said, "I would have told Mr. Kurtz exactly what this ceremony was about. Any time you spend three months in the field with people, you become friends. But Judy's relationship with Colonel McPhee, [Commander of Exploitation Task Force] was not good because he didn't want her out there with us. This ceremony was near the end of our operation. I thought it would be a good idea to have McPhee there, along with Judy, to show my guys some closure. She was very important. She was telling the entire world about what we were doing. This was just a chance to reconcile a relationship with McPhee, which had been a mess from the beginning. I had him pin one bar on one side and Judy pinned on the other one on the other side."
When a journalist's stories begin to cause some readers to believe the reporting is serving a political agenda, however, the reporter's personal background becomes a matter of considerable scrutiny. Miller's work seemed to frequently corroborate Bush administration warnings about Iraq, whether she was writing about aluminum tubes, mobile germ labs, or discoveries of building blocks of weapons of mass destruction. The perception of a political cant to her reportage prompted intense analysis of Miller's beliefs, and there was an abundance of material, which generated even more controversy and led to accusations she was anti-Islamist.
The most confusing connection the New York Times correspondent has had appeared to be her association with an organization known as The Middle East Forum. Founded by Daniel Pipes, the group has openly advocated attacking Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. In an article co-authored for Front Page Magazine in August of 2002, Pipes challenged Bush family friend and long time advisor Brent Scowcroft. According the narrative, Scowcroft was wrong about a measured approach to dealing with Hussein. Pipes wrote that it was time for America to launch a military invasion.
"Saddam Husayn (sic) poses no less of a threat to American and global security than Osama bin Laden," Pipes wrote, "yet for more than a decade, Washington has jockeyed and yammered for the right moment, the right place, the right opportunity to depose him. The time for prevarication has passed. The time to attack is now. Saddam must be overthrown, and soon."
In keeping with the Bush White House's strategy to use American outrage over 9/11 to advance a political agenda, Pipes added, "Today, with Americans mobilized, is exactly the right moment to dispatch him."
A regular contributor to the New York Post, Pipes was also by-lined in an editorial a few months after 9/11, which argued that Hussein had potential nuclear weapons; that the Iraqi dictator was involved in terrorist attacks on America's Twin Towers; he was likely a part of the Anthrax scares in Washington, and that Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress was poised to install a democratic government in Baghdad as soon as America removed Saddam Hussein.
Pipes and his Middle East Forum have been accused of being Zionist, and blatantly anti-Muslim. As far back as 1990, writing in The National Review, he expressed fears over what he described as a "Muslim influx" into western cultures.
"West European societies," he argued, "are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene."
A former employee of the state and defense departments, Pipes was nominated by President Bush to serve on the United States Institute of Peace. The choice of Pipes was subject to senate confirmation, and the Washington Post, whose editorial pages had supported much of the Bush policy regarding Iraq, immediately, editorialized against Pipes. The paper urged the president to withdraw Pipes' name, or for senators to block the nomination. Not surprisingly, Pipes has close relationships with Douglas Feith, an undersecretary at the Department of Defense, right wing conservative U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, and neo-conservative thought leader Richard Perle.
The Middle East Forum also offers expert speakers on its Web site. Among them are people like Bernard Lewis, a professor emeritus of Princeton, who gave a speech for MEF, which was entitled, "Today, America's Interests are Oil and Israel." Lewis, who achieved international acclaim as a scholar of Middle East history, was described by Judy Miller as a mentor during her days at Princeton University's graduate school, which may explain how she ended up being associated with the Mid East Forum. Under a heading on the MEF Web site, entitled, "List of Experts on Islam, Islamism, and the Middle East," for as long as two years, the organization promoted Judith Miller as someone capable of speaking on, "Militant Islam, Biological Warfare." When her reporting from Iraq began to draw fevered criticisms, Miller's name was pulled down from the site's links.
Daniel Forbes of the Globalvision News Network confronted both the New York Times and the Middle East Forum about the unseemly association between an organization with a pure political agenda, and a journalist, who is expected to maintain objectivity in her writing. When he contacted Daniel Pipes, Forbes asked the MEF founder if he felt it was appropriate for Miller to be listed as an expert on his Web site.
"If I didn't think it was appropriate," Pipes answered, "why would she be on our on our Web site?"
Pipes refused to answer Forbes' questions about whether Miller received fees for any speaking, and when he pressed the issue of the reporter's affiliation with a politically motivated group, Pipes hung up the phone, according to Forbes' published narrative of the conversation, "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Reporter Crosses the New York Times' Line of ‘Strict Neutrality.'" The persistent Forbes called back, and, pushed the questioning further, inquiring of Pipes whether he thought Miller's objectivity might be tainted by being connected to the Middle East Forum.
"I'm declining to answer," he said. "All this is none of your business, whether we paid her or not. Did I call you up and ask about your business?"
Undaunted, Forbes asked Pipes about his nomination to the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Pipes hung up the phone a second time.
Forbes' comprehensive reporting included a comment from Bob Steele, director of ethics for the Poynter Institute, a widely-respected journalism think tank in Florida. Steele left little doubt that such a relationship ought to be examined.
"My question would be," he told Forbes, "Is it a leap of logic that they are ideological soulmates? I would want to ask the reporter why she is on the site, and find out the level of connection."
As a minimum, the level of connection included the promotion of Judith Miller's books, which several critics have interpreted as anti-Muslim. Daniel Pipes confirmed that the Middle East Forum held a launch party for the release of her 1996 book, God Has Ninety-Nine Names, (Simon and Schuster.) Apparently, she also appeared at a 2001 MEF forum regarding another one of her books. God Has Ninety-Nine Names was also excerpted in the organization's publication, The Middle East Quarterly.
Miller's objectivity was assaulted in a review of God Has Ninety Nine Names. In The Nation magazine, the book was vilified by the late Edward W. Said, Columbia University's Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Although her own newspaper and the L.A. Times gave her favorable notices, Said's review accused Miller of trading in "the Islamic threat" and advancing her thesis that "militant Islam is a danger to the West." The review suggested Miller, and other anti-Islamist writers and thinkers appeared to be accomplishing their goal.
"The Islamic threat," he wrote, "is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-Semitic paranoia) that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion."
Said, though, was not a writer without controversy, either. During a confrontation on the Lebanese-Israeli border, he was photographed throwing stones at an Israeli guard post. Said, who, like Miller, was the author of several books on the Middle East, was on the board of the Palestinian Advisory Council until he felt betrayed by Yassir Arafat's signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. In a less than conventional obituary of Mr. Said in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper said he "will go down in history for having practically invented the intellectual argument for Muslim rage." In the obit, he is accused of "routinely twisting facts to suit his political purposes." Said is charged, after death, with blaming all of the ills of the Muslim world on "imperialists, racists, and Zionists," and that they were what was preventing the Arab world from being great once more.
Said was, fundamentally, a literary critic whose best-selling "Orientalism," served to politically justify much of the Arab world's violence toward the west. When he took on Judy Miller's logic in her book "God Has Ninety-Nine Names, Said offered a scathing deconstruct. Said wrote that the publication was a "weapon(s) in the contest to subordinate, beat down, compel and defeat any Arab or Muslim resistance to U.S.-Israeli dominance." Although she has lived in the Middle East for twenty five years, Said chastised Miller for having little knowledge of Arabic or Persian languages, arguing that she was woefully unqualified to write as an expert, and that Miller would not be taken seriously as a reporter with expertise if she were lacking linguistic skills on assignment in Russia, France, Germany, or Latin America. He said Miller does not view such language capability as necessary because she interprets Islam as a "psychological deformation," and not a real culture or religion.
Miller was also accused in the review of perceiving Mohammed as the founder of an anti-Jewish religion, laced with violence and paranoia, while not directly quoting one Muslim source on Mohammed. "Just imagine a book," he asked, "published in the United States on Jesus or Moses that makes no use of a single Christian or Judaic authority." Said claimed God Has Ninety-Nine Names is a conglomeration "not of arguments and ideas but of endless interviews with what seems to be a slew of pathetic, unconvincing, self-serving scoundrels and their occasional critics."
Miller was also blamed for factual errors in the book. According to Said, she misidentified "her friend" Hisham Sharabi as a Christian, even though he is a Sunni Muslim. Also referred to as a Muslim by Miller, Badr el Haj, is actually a Maronite Christian. Name-dropping appeared to consistently backfire on Miller, in Said's estimation. The Times reporter said she was "grief-stricken" over Jordan's King Hussein's cancer diagnosis. Said took her to task for not offering any perspective on the fact that Hussein ran a police state where people were tortured, disappeared, and unfairly placed in prison. According to Said's analysis, Miller "perfectly exemplifies the New York Times' current Middle East coverage, now at its lowest ebb."
Undeterred, Miller believes that her reporting has stood the test of historical scrutiny.
"You know what," she offered, angrily. "I was proved fucking right. That's what happened. People who disagreed with me were saying, ‘there she goes again.' But I was proved fucking right."
Ultimately, though, Said completely dismissed God Has Ninety-Nine Names, and its author. "Miller is, in short, a shallow, opinionated journalist whose gigantic book is too long for what it ends up saying, and far too short on reflection, considered analysis, structure and facts."
Miller's perspective, which has probably been more widely disseminated than Said's, has been spread through American culture with constant mass media appearances on programs like Oprah and Larry King Live, and her numerous presentations at various symposia and forums, as well as the pages of the New York Times. Each of her major front page stories on the war in Iraq did, eventually, take steps away from the story's original characterizations. Miller's greatest transgression, however, according to her critics, the one which brought scorn from her colleagues, was the story about the "baseball capped" scientist. If it had been a collegiate class assignment, one journalist complained, Journalism 101 professors were likely to have sent the paper back to the student, and ordered a complete rewrite, or a spiking of the story, unless new sources and corroboration were found. Constantly, Miller wrote in the piece about what "this reporter" was allowed to see, and terms accepted by "this reporter," though she never delivered substantiation of anything alleged because of restrictions placed on her by MET Alpha.
Inevitably, Judith Miller's work became the subject of satire. Writing for Scoop.com, Dennis Hans, an essayist, whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, ridiculed Miller's tactics by turning her into a sports reporter writing about the Super Bowl, without ever being allowed to watch the game.
"A respected accountant who is a member of the Sausalito chapter of the Oakland Raiders Fan Club has told a friend who told his cousin who told this reporter that he (the respected accountant) has provided evidence to the National Football League that the Raiders nipped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2003 Super Bowl.
"Based on that evidence, which this reporter and her editors have not yet seen, the New York Times has decided to retract earlier stories filed the night of the game that proclaimed a Bucs victory."
Hans' piece had Miller being locked into a basement room without a television while the fan club watched the game on television in another part of the house. Unable to accept that the Raiders actually lost the game, they decided to convince Miller of a different outcome, when she met with them the next day.
"That morning, this reporter spoke to the cousin of the friend of the accountant/fan who had evidence of a Raiders victory. The cousin accompanied the reporter to a flower bed by a window that provided a clear view of a large recreation room. The cousin pointed to a silver-and-black sofa, where he said the accountant had viewed the game from the left-most cushion and jotted down in a silver-and-black notebook details on every scoring play, including the Raiders' game-winning touchdown pass, caught by someone named Jerry Rice, as the clock expired."
Miller, though, regardless of the professional degradations she has endured, has continued to exhibit the relentlessness that allowed her to talk her way into the MET Alpha team.
"It didn't occur to me that people would act like this," Miller said. "I just don't hang out a lot with journalists. I'm not a part of that club. I think a lot of what was directed at me was a result of an institution's anger. [The Washington Post] I think all of this stuff started because certain people viewed me as being a softie for the administration, and I was constantly beating the competition on stories. These lies all just get regurgitated. You know, I can spend my time doing my job, or waste it on talking about this nonsense."
But burgeoning criticisms of Judith Miller's work have gone beyond the story of the "baseball capped" scientist to question both the timing, and the standards of her journalism, as well as public traces of her own politics. However, the MET Alpha team's mysterious scientist has brought her the largest amount of ridicule from media critics. Probably, the most incisive, painful assessment of that report came from one of Miller's own colleagues in the Times news room, who was quoted by a columnist in the New York Observer.
"It was," he said, "a wacky-assed piece."
Even wackier, though, was what Judy Miller and her newspaper did to improperly influence the most profoundly important political decisions in America.