The Luckiest Martyr

Is there ever anyone luckier than Judy Miller!

All last year she was pilloried as the prime saleslady for the imaginary WMDs that offered the prime pretext for the invasion of Iraq. Although it refused to denounce her by name, the New York Times publicly castigated itself for poor reporting, and Miller’s career seemed to be at an end, except for the occasional excursion to CNN studios for tete-a-tetes with Larry King.

But then came a glimmer of hope. With unexpected zeal, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was pressing his investigation of who exactly outed Valerie Plame as a CIA officer. Plame, (as the world knows, is the wife of Joe Wilson, who had incurred the displeasure of the Bush White House by discrediting the phony Nigerian yellowcake story, part of their vast propaganda operation to sell the Iraq attack to Congress and the American people.

Fitzgerald was threatening journalists with prison time unless they disclosed their sources. It wasn’t long before some journalists informed the zealous Fitzgerald that they had been released from confidentiality by their sources. Indeed, Scooter Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, declared publicly that any journalist who had talked to him was free to discuss such conversations with Fitzgerald. The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler testified forthwith before the federal grand jury, as did Tim Russert of NBC. The general assumption is that Robert Novak, who’d outed Plame in his column in July 2003, was subpoenaed by Fitzgerald and duly testified.

How Miller’s heart must have leaped. Here was the glorious prospect of her instant conversion from pariah, only one rung up from Jayson Blair, to martyr to free speech, only one rung below John Peter Zenger. She and Matt Cooper of Time magazine declined to testify or furnish their notes. Encumbered by the counsel of that perennial incompetent, Floyd Abrams (representing the NYT), their cases commenced their climb up through the federal courts, until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the ruling of the federal appeals court in favor of Fitzgerald.

Time magazine roared its dedication to free speech, while simultaneously declaring it had to obey the law of the land. Against Cooper’s proclaimed wishes, Time handed over Cooper’s notes to Fitzgerald. The New York Times said it would not comply.

But Fitzgerald was not appeased by Time’s ductility. He said he was not to be appeased by only Cooper’s notes. By now he wanted to grill the two journalists on the stand. The issue was not just the matter of the identity of the White House source, but the handy standby of all federal prosecutors, the matter of perjury. Ask Martha Stewart. It was her misleading declarations to federal investigators that put her in prison.

Cooper bid a manly adieu to his family, packed his toothbrush, and made himself ready for incarceration at least as far as October, when the grand jury’s term expires. Then came the dramatic release from confidentiality by Cooper’s source. Cooper went off to court, embraced Judy Miller in a fine display of solidarity, and then told the judge he would comply with Fitzgerald’s subpoena.

Miller, of course, was publicly adamant. But there seems to be no reason why she should not have echoed Cooper’s statement to Judge Thomas Hogan. Fitzgerald has publicly declared that not only does he know the identity of Miller’s source, but also that this source has released Miller from confidentiality.

But Miller was not be balked of the martyrdom that will blot out her fake stories on Iraq’s WMDs and convert her into the heroine of the Fourth Estate, with lucrative lecture fees and book sales for the rest of the decade. Never, she told the judge, would she reveal the Name that could not be named. The gates of the federal prison in Alexandria invitingly beckoned.

There are curious questions hanging over Miller’s determined march towards her prison cell, not far from that of Moussaoui, who is probably offering her free legal advice on the prison grapevine.

Miller never actually wrote a story in the New York Times about Plame being in the CIA. So why has Fitzgerald been so eager to have her testify? The answer may lie in a paragraph buried in the Washington Post, reading as follows: “Sources close to the investigation say there is evidence in some instances that some reporters may have told government officials ­ not the other way around ­ that Wilson was married to Plame, a CIA employee.”

We could conjecture that when Fitzgerald interviewed White House political adviser Karl Rove and Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, one or other or both had said that they learned Plame was married to Wilson and in the CIA from Miller, who ­ again this is surmise ­ might well have learned this from one of her other sources, whether Perle or Chalabi or someone else in the intelligence world.

After all, this is Miller’s style of reporting. Learn something (entirely false in the case of the WMDs) from one source, then bounce it off another, and then put together a story citing two sources. In the case of the WMDs, Chalabi would give her a “defector” who would duly impart his fantasies about Saddam’s arsenal. She would relay the defector’s story to “a high intelligence source” who would confirm it.

We applaud prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s gallant bid to do what now departed Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent should have done: grill Miller about the techniques and veracity of her reporting. Here, after all, is a journalist with blood on her hands, a fabricator who played a major role (rivaled perhaps only by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg) in selling a war with one fabrication after another, eagerly offered to the public by the New York Times.

But alas, all hopes that her career would expire in ignominy have now been dashed. As swift as the moves to canonize John Paul II, the vestments of sainthood are being draped over St. Judy. If her past career is anything to go by, already the prison guards are melting before her winsome smiles and confiding the little secrets and disclosures that will soon being their careers to end and their families to the brink of starvation. It would require the pen of Henry Fielding to do her proper justice.

 

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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