Daily Archives: October 19, 2005

Judge Judy

“Don’t he never sleep?” That was the question Billy Chapin asked re Robert Mitchum in the greatest of all American movies. And a slight variation of same inevitably comes to mind re The Queen of All Iraq who, scarcely winded from a weekend’s worth of dissembling on the pages of her fourth estate enabler, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning to pretty much take up from where she left off

“Good morning, I am Judith Miller, a reporter for The New York Times. That statement, in and of itself, is extraordinary. “

Oh not really. The NYT is a thoroughly disgraceful rag that up until you came along had managed to pimp a palimpsest of “respectability”over itself.

Happily those days are over.

Reporters don’t usually testify at Congressional hearings. But the circumstances that in July forced me to spend 85 days in the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia highlight the urgent need for a Federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources.”

No, they highlight the need for professionalism and honesty sorely lacking in what’s laughingly referred to as the “mainstream media.”

“I am here today to urge you to enact the Free Flow of Information Act so that other journalists will not be forced, as I was, to go to jail to protect their sources. I’m here because I hope you will agree that an uncoerced, uncoercable press, though at times irritating, is vital to the perpetuation of the freedom and democracy we so often take for granted.”

Citizens disinclined to appear before Federal grand juries when subpoenaed to do so will continue to be jailed. No excuses. No exceptions.

“After almost three months in jail, I managed to secure both a personal letter and a telephone call from my source, I. Lewis Libby, and equally critically, an agreement with the prosecutor to focus his questioning on my main source and the Plame/Wilson affair. Had I not gotten both agreements, I would not have testified. I would still be in jail, as I was during your last hearing on this measure.”

There was a phone call too? I can hear it now: “Hello Irving?”

“Yes, the legal machinations in my case were enormously complex, but the principle I was defending was fairly straightforward: once reporters give a pledge to keep a source’s identity confidential, they must be willing to honor that pledge and not testify unless the source gives explicit, personal permission for them to do so, and they are able to protect other confidential sources.”

The only thing of enormous complexity was the PR shilling the NYT was willing to shell out the better to promote your worthless ass. Thankfully it met with less success than Sam Goldwyn did trying to put over Anna Sten.

“Eventually, when the fuss over my case dies down, I hope journalists and politicians will begin examining the real issues at stake here, especially the question of when and under what circumstances a waiver can be considered voluntary.”

I certainly hope the ‘fuss” will never die down, as the very practice of journalism is at stake.

“Struggling with such a weighty question alone in jail was hardly ideal. I did the best I could under rather challenging circumstances.”

Pipe the new fish!

“Confidential sources are the life’s blood of journalism. Without them, whether they are in government, large or small companies, or in non-profit organizations, people like me would be out of business.”

Confidential sources are the life’s blood of disinformation. Without them the media would be unable to function as the primary conduit of lies and propaganda, and two-bit whores like you would out on the streets where they belong.

“As I painfully learned while covering intelligence estimates of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, we are only as good as our sources. If they are wrong, we will be wrong. And a source’s confidence that we will not divulge their identity is crucial to his or her readiness to come to us with allegations of fraud or abuse or other wrongdoing, or even a dissenting view about government policy or business practices that the American public may need to know.”

In other words, “If you lie to us, we will cover for you — no questions asked.”

“If journalists cannot be trusted by sources to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press. Those who need anonymity are not only the poor and the powerless, those whose lives or jobs might be in jeopardy if they speak up publicly, but even the powerful. All are entitled to anonymity if they are telling the truth and have something of importance to say to the American people. Reporters rarely know when they extend a pledge of confidentiality to a good-faith source what the impact of the information being provided will be. “

So the powerful and the powerless are exactly the same. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

“Our history is filled with examples of articles that never would have been written without confidential sources. Last Saturday in Los Angeles, I presented an award to the grandson of Mark Felt, the former deputy director of the F.B.I. who was critical in helping Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post turn what was originally denigrated as a third-rate burglary into a tale of corruption and malfeasance that brought down a president. Woodward and Bernstein felt so strongly about their pledge to their source to safeguard his confidentiality they passed up a huge scoop by letting Mr. Felt’s family announce to another person the secret they had held for over 30 years: that he, in fact, was, Deep Throat.”

“Here Come Those Tired Old Tits Again!”

As anyone who actually read All The President’s Men knows, Mark Felt was in no way shape a form a primary source of information for Woodward and Bernstein. The Watergate scandal was reported the old-fashioned way — honest toil, worn shoe leather, and actual witnesses willing to talk on the record. . Felt, an old pal of Woodward’s from his days in Naval Intelligence was simple an advisor, playing “hot and cold” with the information the reporters relayed to him. Turned by the book into a kind of Beltway Harry Lime, his most famous words “Follow the money,” weren’t uttered by him at all. They were invented by William Goldman, the screenwriter of the movie version. It’s a nice film, but when it comes toWatergate, I much prefer Dick.

“Few of us reporters can claim such a famous exclusive. But I know from my 30 years in national security and intelligence reporting that confidential sources in this area, though traditionally the most press-shy and skittish of contacts, are indispensable to government accountability and the people’s right to know.

(stifling a snerk!)

“I would point to just two examples: in 2000, I relied heavily on such sources in co-writing a series of articles published in January 2001 that described the Clinton Administration’s growing concerns about the then still underappreciated military Islamic group, Al Qaeda, which was openly and doggedly pursuing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.”

If wishes were horses we’d all win the Kentucky Derby.

“That series, which won one of seven Pulitzer Prizes for The New York Times that year, could never have been written without the pledges of confidentiality I gave to the officials who were so worried about Al Qaeda — all too presciently, alas —

Really? Were nuclear, biological and chemical weapons used on 9/11? I thought it was just box cutters. My Bad.

“that they were willing to discuss classified information with me to call attention to how relatively little time and money were being spent countering what they considered the gravest of threats to our nation.

Oh really? They had to go off the record to talk about a national threat? In what alternate universe?

“Nor could “Germs,” which I co-authored with two Times colleagues, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, have been written without confidential sources. That book, which discussed what our government and others were doing to counter the growing menace of biological warfare and terrorism, was published a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks and less than a month before the anthrax letter attacks killed five, sickened 17, and put 30,000 people on antibiotics.”

Oh we remember your phony anthrax letter,Judy. We’re also familiar with another book of yours, about which an Amazon poster named Hussain Abdul-Hussain remarked —

“This is a very lousy book. It is a failing attempt to imitate Tom Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem. It is full of mistakes. Don’t waste your money or your time buying it and reading it.
To illustrate what I mean by full of mistakes; take the chapter that discusses Lebanon, for instance.
The author talks about Iranians teaching children martyrdom in Shiite schools in South Lebanon. How could Persian-speaking Iranians communicate with Arabic-speaking Shiite youngsters? The author doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference.
This is not to belittle Iran’s role in building Hizbullah in Lebanon, but Judith got it all with a wrong reasoning. She knows most of what happened, but she can barely explain why this did happen. When she comes up with words of wisdom, they prove to be unfit.
Another drawback in this book is Miller’s assumption or her targeting of an audience that is not familiar with the Middle East at all. Whatever issue she mentions, she gives loads of quick surveys as background information. This becomes boring while the information she provides seem shallow for readers familiar with the Middle East.
Finally, even though Miller has a good journalistic style, such a style doesn’t necessarily look good when writing a book that is a mixture of history and politics of a region with the biggest number of versions of the most complicated stories of the world’s history.”

But hey — what does he know? Right Jude?

“Admittedly, the situation that sent me to jail was not as clear-cut – it was not the case of a government or corporate whistleblower, but an all too familiar case of Washington politics.”

Is it now? My but isn’t that revealing! Do you know of other instances where deep-cover CIA opertatives were outed for spite?

“Yet the principle, that confidential sources must be protected, must apply in all cases: indeed, one person’s whistleblower is another ‘s snitch. Some have argued that the individual in my case did not deserve confidentiality because his motives were not pure. But whistleblowers or those who engaged in spinning reporters are not usually saints, and journalists should not demand that they be so. While reporters must try to understand why someone is telling them something, what counts far more than their motivation is the truth and significance of what they are saying. Moreover, when offering to keep a source’s identity confidential, journalists seldom know in advance whether the information being provided will turn out to be insignificant, or even sufficiently strong to produce a story, or of major national importance. Thus, promises of confidentiality once made, must be respected unless the source specifically and personally waives that privilege, or the public’s right to know will suffer. “

So “motivation is the truth and significance of what they are saying” is the most important thing. But when you discover it’s not what you thought it was at first; when you find out the’ve been selling you shit while claiming its caviar — well tough darts. Their Right to Lie is inviolable.

“What rankles me the most is that in the two place I live and work, New York and the District of Columbia, there is absolute protection for confidential sources. In fact, as this panel knows, all but one state – Wyoming – have enacted shield laws or assured such protection through court rulings. But such protection of the public’s right to know does not exist at the Federal level because of a more than 30-year old Supreme Court ruling that has spread confusion in Federal courts and news bureaus throughout the land. Because of that judicial chaos, reporters who ought to be able to rely on a state’s law, may not be able to do so. Sometimes, through chance, a case may end up in a Federal rather than a state court. Not only does this lead to a lack of legal predictability and no real basis on which to govern one’s behavior, it is also fundamentally unfair. That is yet another reason why a Federal Shield Law is so essential. The Federal government should finally catch up with the will of the states, all but one of which now provide absolute or qualified protection for reporters and their sources. Most of these laws have been adopted in the 30 years since the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Yeah we’ve got to plug up that federal hole.Cause if we don’t then Fitzgerald Happens

“A second reason why this bill is so urgently needed is that in the post 9/11 era,
dramatically increased amounts and types of information are being classified as secret, and hence, are no longer available for public review. Last year, more documents were classified secret and top secret than ever before in American history. In such a climate, confidential sources, particularly in the national security and intelligence areas, are indispensable to government accountability.”

Gee whiz, Judy. You’re not going to “pull a Dubbya” on us with a whole mess o’ “9/11!” invocation are you dear? Yes of course you are.

“Journalists are increasingly being subjected to Federal subpoenas since 9/11. More than two dozen reporters have been subpoenaed in the past two years and are in danger of going to jail. If current trends prevail, the Alexandria Detention Facility may have to open an entire new wing to house reporters.”

It’s OZ 2 ! Will your cellmate be as hot as Chris Meloni? As If!

“With respect to the specifics of the proposed Bill, I would just say that I support the exception which has been drafted by its sponsors that would exempt “imminent and actual harm” to the national security, even if it is extended to potential bodily harm. I was an embedded reporter in Iraq in one of the most sensitive missions. I do not underestimate the potential jeopardy facing American soldiers and those who work with them if secret information is disclosed prematurely. But more than 30 states attorneys general, in a brief supporting the reporter’s privilege, that the protection of confidential sources was paramount. And not one mentioned an instance in which a hostage or person at risk died or was injured because a journalist insisted on protecting her source, or a prosecution that failed because of a state shield law. “

And Ford thought Pintos were pefectly safe automobiles, you know. Or at least that’s what they told themselves.

“However, while I favor that exception, I would very strongly oppose further amendments to the bill that would exempt any investigation into past criminal speech or activity, usually a leak. For one, most federal subpoenas from prosecutors involve potentially criminal disclosures. The leakers in the Balco case in San Francisco violated grand jury secrecy rules or laws, but their information about steroid use in professional baseball gave Congress the facts and impetus to start hearings and make needed reforms. Daniel Ellsberg arguably violated the Espionage Act, but in retrospect it is clear that The New York Times did well by publishing the Pentagon papers and giving greater historical context to the reasons why we were in Vietnam.”

Yeah and you’re just so much like Daniel Ellsberg, aren’t you dear?

“Such leaks, be they criminal or not, often serve a public good. And it is also usually unclear early on whether the leaker is violating a law. Thus, an exception for criminal activity would be unworkable, since at the time a subpoena is issued to a reporter a decision would have to be made on whether the underlying crime had in fact occurred.
Finally, reporters should not be an arm of the law; if government employees illegally leak information, it is up to government, with all its coercive power, to discover the culprit, not a reporter whose primary duty is to inform the public.”

Except you never have informed the public, Judy. You wouldn’t dare tell us anything that actually matters. For that would require a “waiver” that isn’t forthcoming — even if you thought of asking for one, which you never would.

“In conclusion, I would just say that my 85 days in prison were tempered by the letters I received from friends and supporters throughout the country, and indeed the world. Some of the letters that touched me most were those from journalists and writers overseas, many of whom have always looked to America as a beacon of press freedom. Those writers simply could not understand how a reporter doing her job — much less a reporter who had never written wrote an article on this story — could be imprisoned for keeping her word. Foreigners and Americans alike have been startled and disappointed at the seeming contradiction between our great tradition of a free press and jailing a reporter who was trying to protect a source so that she could continue publishing, as my paper would say, “all the news that’s fit to print.”

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

“In jail, I had to draft some standards that I felt would help me and perhaps other journalists determine when, and under what circumstances, we could conclude whether a source was truly willing to let a reporter identify him or her and testify before a grand jury. But I would hope that you will act to prevent other journalists from having to conduct such metaphysical debates about free will and what constitutes a source’s waiver of confidentiality while in jail.”

And aren’t you pleased that prison gave you time to catch up on your Heidegger, Husserl and Sartre?

“What has been missed in much of the furor over my case, paraphrasing Paul Levinson, a Fordham University professor, is that the recent hand-wringing should not prevent us from recognizing the most enduring truth: reporters, even flawed reporters, should not be jailed for protecting even flawed sources. When the dust clears, I hope that journalists and newsrooms will be emboldened, not confused or angered by what I have done. And I hope that you will help ensure that no other reporter will have to choose between doing her small bit to protect the First Amendment and her liberty.”

Oh please. Judy you hope and pray the dust never clears.You live for the dust. The more of it you can throw in our eyes, the better.

“Thank you.”

No so fast! FAIR has a few choice words:

“The Society of Professional Journalists’ decision to give its prestigious “First Amendment Award” to embattled New York Times reporter Judith Miller is a blow to freedom of expression. By rewarding a reporter who was apparently collaborating with and protecting a powerful official in an effort to punish the free speech of a government critic, the SPJ is undermining, not advancing, the principles of the First Amendment.

The award, coming two days after details of Miller’s involvement in the CIA leak story and her grand jury testimony were revealed by the New York Times (10/16/05), was defended by SPJ board member Mac McKerral, who told Editor & Publisher (10/17/05), “It’s not a lifetime achievement award…. I could understand people being upset if we were recognizing her work over a period of time, but this is an award for being willing to not reveal a source, willing to spend so many days in jail, and that is how we distinguish it.. Issues raised in the past couple of days really had no bearing on the award.”

But why wouldn’t new information about the case be relevant to a journalism group? For months, Miller claimed a journalistic privilege to protect Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby. Miller would eventually tell the grand jury that Libby had identified Valerie Plame Wilson–the wife of White House critic and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson–as a CIA employee (New York Times, 10/16/05). Miller seemed to have little doubt about what motivated this disclosure: Asked why she agreed to Libby’s request to identify him only as a “former Hill staffer,” Miller told the grand jury, “I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson.”

In other words, Miller understood that Libby was not a whistleblower but was someone out to punish a government critic. Not only was it unethical for her to agree to identify Libby in a misleading way, but promising him any kind of anonymity in this case violated the Times’ rules against allowing unnamed sources to make partisan attacks.

SPJ’s case rests on the belief that Miller was not wavering on the principle of not revealing a confidential source. But Miller’s refusal to testify doesn’t in the end seem as principled as either she or her paper originally claimed–which is the whole reason SPJ deemed her worthy of an award. Instead, the Times’ October 16 report suggests that Miller was seeking a suitable waiver from Libby all along, and eventually based her decision not to testify in part on the feeling that she would harm Libby if she testified:

Once Ms. Miller was issued a subpoena in August 2004 to testify about her conversations with Mr. Libby, she and The Times vowed to fight it. Behind the scenes, however, her lawyer made inquiries to see if Mr. Libby would release her from their confidentiality agreement. Ms. Miller said she decided not to testify in part because she thought that Mr. Libby’s lawyer might be signaling to keep her quiet unless she would exonerate his client.

The form that “signaling” took, according to Miller, was Libby’s explaining that he had testified about their conversations in ways that in Miller’s view were false. In other words, she refused to testify because she didn’t want to expose her friend as a perjurer. Is this really a journalist that SPJ wants to hold up as an example to others?

There is much that is inexplicable and contradictory in Miller’s account of her behavior. But even taking her story at face value, she is a reporter who violated the standards of professional journalism to work with a top White House official to get revenge on a government critic–and then declined to testify to protect him from the criminal consequences of his lies. This context has an obvious bearing on Miller’s qualifications for an award celebrating freedom of expression”
a suivre