July 06, 2005


Bad Journalist Walking

A federal judge today ordered Judith Miller of The New York Times to be jailed immediately after she again refused to cooperate with a grand jury investigating the disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. operative.
But she should be going to jail for her irresponsible reporting:
When the full history of the Iraq war is written, one of its most scandalous chapters will be about how American journalists, in particular those at the New York Times, so easily allowed themselves to be manipulated by both dubious sources and untrustworthy White House officials into running stories that misled the nation about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The Times finally acknowledged its grave errors in an extraordinary and lengthy editors note published Wednesday. The editors wrote:

"We have found ... instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been ... In some cases, the information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged -- or failed to emerge ... We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight."

The editors conceded what intelligence sources had told me and numerous other reporters: that Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi was feeding bad information to journalists and the White House and had set up a situation with Iraqi exiles where all of the influential institutions were shouting into the same garbage can, hearing the same echo. "Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations -- in particular, this one."

The reporter on many of the flawed stories at issue was Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and authority on the Middle East. The Times, insisting that the problem did not lie with any individual journalist, did not mention her name. The paper was presumably trying to take the high road by defending its reporter, but the omission seems peculiar. While her editors must share a large portion of the blame, the pieces ran under Miller's byline. It was Miller who clearly placed far too much credence in unreliable sources, and then credulously used dubious administration officials to confirm what she was told.


In its editors note, the Times admitted Miller's "informant also claimed that Iraq had sent unconventional weapons to Syria and had been cooperating with Al Qaeda -- two claims that were then, and remain, highly controversial. But the tone of the article suggested that this Iraqi 'scientist' -- who in a later article described himself as an official of military intelligence -- had provided the justification the Americans had been seeking for the invasion. The Times never followed up on the veracity of this source or the attempts to verify his claims."

Miller, who knew all of this already at the time I interviewed her, remained righteously indignant, unwilling to accept that she had goofed in the grandest of fashions.

"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."
I've always been curious about this last quote and often wondered how Miller, unless she was completely batshit insane, could make such a dubious claim. And then, through the magic of Google, I came across this:
Now, at first glance this makes no sense whatsoever, since nothing in her article has been proven right. In fact, very little in any of her reporting on this subject was accurate. But -- what if we are all misunderstanding Miller? What if by "fucking right" she meant "having sex correctly"?

With that in mind, let's look at the quote again, with minor changes:
"You know what," she offered angrily. "I was proved to be having sex correctly. That's what happened. People who disagreed with me were saying, 'There she goes again.' But I was proved to be having sex correctly."
You see? Now it makes perfect sense. Remember that Miller has come under intense criticism not just for her atrocious reporting; many people also claimed she was still, as of 2003, having sex incorrectly.

Of course, the whole world knows Miller had sex incorrectly during the eighties. That's never been in dispute. Indeed, thousands of people (mostly Iranian) were killed.

The question was whether she was still having sex incorrectly as of 2003. The US and UK intelligence agencies were certain she was, and claimed Miller was a threat not just to her neighbors but the entire world. However, their certainty now appears to have been based on "evidence" manufactured by Ahmad Chalabi.
Mystery solved.

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