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Preemptive PR: The Times Makes the Case for Judy... Again

Arianna Huffington
Huffington Post

Here is the opening exchange from Monday’s Lou Dobbs interview with Judy Miller’s lawyer, Floyd Abrams:

DOBBS: Let's begin with 40 days in jail. How much longer is this going to go on?

ABRAMS: Well, the order of confinement by the judge was that she would stay in jail until she revealed her confidential sources, or until the grand jury expired, which is right now scheduled for October 28th. So it would be until then, unless there was -- there were additional legal steps taken against her. [emphasis added]

Was the fear of additional legal steps being taken against Judy Miller the reason for Monday's preemptive PR campaign? Was this why Floyd Abrams went on Lou Dobbs and the New York Times did a glowing pro-Judy editorial?

The biggest fear among Judy loyalists that I've spoken to (yes, they still speak to me. Does this make them disloyal Judy loyalists?), is that there will be "additional legal steps" -- i.e. that Judy will be charged with criminal contempt -- a charge that, believe it or not, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison (though a sentence of three to six months is far more likely). TalkLeft has a helpful primer on the differences between criminal and civil contempt -- but, at its most basic, civil contempt is a coercive measure used to get someone to talk; criminal contempt is used to punish someone for not cooperating with the court.

And Fitzgerald is clearly not happy with Judy. Indeed, both Fitzgerald and Judge Hogan have spoken in open court about the possibility of charging Miller with criminal contempt -- and, at a July hearing, Fitzgerald described Miller as "breaking the law" and having committed a "crime."

So, with that as looming backdrop, we were treated to another round of Judy-polishing by her employer and attorney.

The editorial continued the paper of record's attempt to cast Judy as journalistic Joan of Arc, describing her as serving time to "protect privileged information" and "unwavering in her mission to safeguard the freedom of the press to do its job effectively." The encomium ended by linking Judy's cause to America's, saying of Miller's 41 days in jail: "That is far too long, for her, for us and especially for a country that prides itself on exporting its belief in a free press to the rest of the world."

Note to the editors (1): No matter how many times you say it, covering for an illegal government leaker out to smear someone's reputation for political reasons, is NOT the kind of "free press" we are trying to export to "the rest of the world."

Note to the editors (2): You may want to tell your public editor not to quote the Times editor he quotes in Sunday's paper, laying out one of the Times' ethical guidelines: "The Times's policy does not permit the granting of anonymity to confidential news sources 'as cover for a personal or partisan attack.'" So which is it, Times editors? Let's give Judy the benefit of the doubt for a minute and accept that she was a catcher, not a pitcher. Then, according to her own paper's ethical standards, if the person pitching to her is doing it for partisan reasons -- and is anybody doubting that? -- then there is no "granting of anonymity".

Someone should send that particular ethical standard to Floyd Abrams to get him off the high horse he occupied on Lou Dobbs: "She is doing," he told Dobbs, "what she not only believes is the right thing to do, but what journalists in general are trained to do, taught to do, and honored for doing." Sorry Floyd, not if the source is leaking "as cover for a personal or partisan attack".

Abrams also played the well-worn privileged relationship card: "I don't have to reveal sources because I'm a lawyer... Priests don't have to reveal sources." Of course, as Abrams certainly knows, there are exceptions to even attorney/client and priest/parishioner privileges... and this is a clear case of an exception to the journalist/confidential source relationship. But even though Abrams sounded like the defense lawyer during closing arguments at some future trial, he wasn't peddling this pap to a judge. He was selling it to a much more receptive crowd -- the mindless media that are all too willing to gobble up his Judy-as-hero rhetoric.

Will the preemptive PR work and keep Judy from being charged with criminal contempt? Stay tuned...



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