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"MillerGate" At The New York Times
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
by David Wyles
"The First Amendment exists so that the press can be a check on government abuse of power, not a handmaiden to it."
--FAIR press release, 8/19/04
"Journalists should not have to face the prospect of imprisonment for doing nothing more than aggressively seeking to report on the government's actions."
--Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, 8/13/04
An Open Letter to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. and the Editors and Staff of The New York Times --
Dear Mr. Sulzberger and Editors, Mr. Keller, Ms. Abramson, and Ms. Collins,
This "curious" reader wonders just what's going on at The Times?
If you care as much about the First Amendment as you claim you do, then why is there no freedom of speech or freedom of the press at The Times when it comes to Judith Miller?
Where are Frank Rich's or Maureen Dowd's free musings about Millergate? Or Douglas Jehl's or Eric Lichtblau's or Adam Liptak's incisive, in-depth analyses of the legal situation Ms. Miller has put herself and your paper and the nation in? And where in God's name is the paper's Public Editor, Byron Calame, who has enough time to do a back-patting piece in this Sunday's Times about the "unusually intelligent, sophisticated and well educated" typical readers of the Times, but has curiously never done a piece about the whole Judith Miller-Iraq-Plamegate journalistic fiasco and the effect it has had on the morale of your paper's reporters, as well as on the trust its millions of readers formerly had in the journalistic standards of the Times.
Whether you realize it or not, Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller, your devotion to the person of Judith Miller rather than to the higher principles of journalistic truth and integrity has not only hurt your personal reputations, but more importantly, has besmirched and disgraced, perhaps irreparably, the august reputation of the Times.
After Judith Miller freely used The Times as a platform to publish the Bush Administration's lies and distortions and disinformation that led directly to ginning up the war fever in America against Iraq, you had to publish a mea culpa (without, as I remember, naming her directly) for her journalistic sins against the truth. She should have been fired then, like Jayson Blair. But you kept her on. Jayson Blair's fibs and fabrications were journalistic heresy perhaps, but none of his stories, as far as I know, helped lead our country into a destructive and bloody preemptive war that was based primarily on lies. No, that would be Judith Miller's claim to journalistic infamy.
So, you kept your "star" reporter on to attack Kofi Annan and the U.N. in a series of one-sided and dubiously researched articles, while she continued to keep milking her neocon buddies in the Bush Administration for more juicy "inside" tidbits that she could churn into more front-page butter for the Times. Her "WMD" and "Iraq War" beat led both directly and indirectly to her involvement with Scooter Libby and Plamegate, and for you or her to claim or pretend otherwise is preposterous. We now know that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove and unnamed others in the Bush Administration were among those behind the possibly treasonous outing of a "political enemy's wife" as a CIA agent. And we know that the intrepid, ambitious, and possibly duplicitous Ms. Miller was right in the middle of the behind-the-scenes action.
For the Times (at least, officially, so far, in its fiercely defensive editorials) Millergate is about a journalist protecting a confidential source, in this case, a high government official. And there could be honorable, professional and First Amendment reasons for Judith Miller (and the Times) taking this position, even to the point of her being willing to go to jail for her beliefs. As the journalistic watchdog organization, FAIR, has said --
"The ability to protect confidential sources who reveal government wrongdoing is an important journalistic protection that deserves judicial respect."
BUT -- "In both the Plame and Wen Ho Lee [another major blot on the journalistic integrity of the Times] cases, the journalist's sources were not revealing government wrongdoing, but committing government wrongdoing."
Now, it appears to me that Judith Miller is behaving less like a First Amendment martyr and heroine and more like a worried witness in an organized crime case who knows too much and is afraid of getting whacked by a mob hitman if she comes forward and testifies. The only question remaining is -- "Who's she more afraid of -- the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, or the Bush neocon Mafia?"
Her personal problems aside, it seems to me that the larger, more important victim in this Millergate case is the broken trust between the Times and its readers. Can it be repaired?
Only if you and all of your editors and reporters search your consciences, realize and admit where you (and Judith Miller) went wrong, and then have you, Judith Miller, and your other reporters, opinion columnists, and editorial writers come forward quickly and publish, cleanly and comprehensively, "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" of what went on behind-the-scenes in the Bush Administration during Plamegate (and, for that matter, the whole run-up to the War on Iraq).
It's a big job. And you will have to be "big men" and "big women" to do it. But, unless you do do it, the Times will be a much lesser journalistic institution and become a little-to-be-trusted "newspaper of record."
And I'm sure you don't want that.
Playa Del Rey, CA.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION