I cannot remember having as entertaining a time reading the New York Times as I did this past Sunday reading the page one story on Judith Miller and her self-imposed jail time.
Really, the three reporters assigned to report on her release from jail, where she was being held for contempt for failing to reveal her source and what had been said to her regarding CIA agent Valerie Plame, and on her own account of her four-hour grand jury questioning, published the same day, handled their difficult task brilliantly.
Without outright calling their co-worker a liar and a shill for the Bush administration’s war marketing campaign, they left almost no doubt in the reader’s mind not only that this was in fact what she was, but that the Times’ senior management and many of her colleagues at the paper thought exactly the same thing.
At her less-than-triumphal return to the newsroom, they reported, after she gave a little speech calling her 85-day jail stay and her release by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “a victory for press freedom,” there was “restrained applause.”
Several reporters actually criticized Miller on the record for the story, a rare breach of collegiality that shows clearly in just how low esteem this war-mongering hack is held at her own place of work. Even more delicious, when Miller, who never did write a piece about former ambassador Joseph Wilson and Plame, asserted to the reporters writing the article about her that she had “made a strong suggestion to my editor” to run such a piece but had been “told no,” they didn’t take her at her word. Instead, they went to Jill Abramson, the Washington bureau chief at that time, who countered that Miller had never made such a suggestion for a story.
Miller’s own first-person account of her “ordeal,” which she had promised would be exhaustive, was simply laughable–and full of blanks. She said that when questioned before the grand jury, and to this day, she “couldn’t remember” why the name “Valerie Flame” appeared in the notebook she had used in her interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney’s aid Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Nor could this Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist remember who had told her the name “Valerie Wilson,” which also appeared in the same notebook at another point. Equally funny was Miller’s continued effort to explain why she just couldn’t accept Libby’s attorney’s assertion to her that she was free to reveal his identity and the content of his conversations with her to the prosecutor. She couldn’t do that, she insisted, unless she spoke in person with Libby and was sure he wasn’t being “coerced.” As though Libby’s leaks, which were part of an administration campaign to smear Wilson, hadn’t been approved by higher-ups. As though, in other words, her source was some kind of whistleblower in need of protection from his bosses.
But I guess my favorite part of Sunday’s read was where Miller said she was planning to take a vacation, after which she said she hoped “to return to the newsroom.”
The truth? It will be truly astonishing if Miller, who once referred to herself as Ms. Run Amok, because “I can do whatever I want,” ends up back in the newsroom of the New York Times following her “sabbatical.” My suspicion is that her leave is a graceful way for the Times to sack a reporter who has embarrassed the publication.
I think the paper is making a mistake, though. A publication so lacking in humor (the Times famously has no comics section), really needs a humor column, and Miller has shown herself to be very good at making readers laugh.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org