Monday, October 17, 2005

Judy! Judy! Judy!

The New York Times has finally published its long-awaited 5900-word investigative study into the Judy Miller affair, and Ms. Miller herself has served up an equally fascinating 3500-word personal account of her martyrdom. Now we know everything: Who told whom what, and for which reasons, and why Jude the Nonobscure spent 85 days carving a laptop out of soap at the Alexandria Woman’s Detention Center.

Glad we finally got that cleared up.

Oops, sorry, I was residing in an alternate universe. Let me return to this planet, where Plamegate is more muddled than ever, and the only thing that seems certain is Scooter Libby and Turdblossom Rove being fitted for matching electronic ankle bracelets.

Depending on which version you believe, Miller...

a) never spoke with anyone about Valerie Plame or her husband, Joe Wilson;

b) spoke about the two, but only with VP aide Lewis Libby;

c) first heard Valerie Plame’s name from someone other than Libby whose name she cannot remember.

This last bit may even be true. After all, Miller cannot get Valerie Plame’s name right from one day to the next – writing it in her notebook as “Valerie Flame” one day, “Victoria Wilson” on another. (Does Miller think Plame is member of The Fantastic Four, or the Beach Boys? It’s unclear.)

Miller’s account of her behavior abounds with the kind of errors and ethical gaps that would make any self-respecting editor want to swill Drano. She apparently records information in her notebook without recording the identity of the person who gives her the information. She agrees to falsify Libby’s already anonymous identity, calling him a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official,” and justifying it because he once worked on Capitol Hill. (As Arriana Huffington has pointed out, it would be equally accurate to call Libby a “former high schooler”, or even a “frustrated novelist.”) She obtains a security clearance from the Pentagon that essentially allows the government to vet what she can and cannot write about in Iraq (and we all know how well that turned out).

Her bosses fare no better in these accounts. Despite committing millions of dollars in legal fees (and the once hallowed, now hollowed, reputation of the Times), Editor Bill Keller never asked to see Miller’s notes, never asked about her source, never even found out what it was the Times was actually defending. Keller would be copyediting his resume right now if publisher Arthur Sulzberger were not just as deeply coated in shit.

It’s not like any of this should come as a great surprise. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, not the deepest thinker or most intrepid reporter on the planet, uncovers this chestnut – a memo written in 2000 by freelancer Craig Pyes to the NY Times editors:

"I'm not willing to work further on this project with Judy Miller," wrote Pyes, who now writes for the Los Angeles Times. He added: "I do not trust her work, her judgment, or her conduct. She is an advocate, and her actions threaten the integrity of the enterprise, and of everyone who works with her. . . . She has turned in a draft of a story of a collective enterprise that is little more than dictation from government sources over several days, filled with unproven assertions and factual inaccuracies," and "tried to stampede it into the paper."

What’s most troubling is that Miller’s account has an eerily familiar ring. She professes ignorance – she can’t remember who told her about “Valerie Flame.” Her fallback defense is incompetence – she’s just a lousy reporter (in Miller’s case this may not be an act). But beneath it all lurks a deep malfeasance. Miller is hiding something. She’s protecting someone, or multiple someones. She’s either the world’s biggest schlemiel, or she knows much more than she’s letting on about the White House effort to generate fake evidence for a real war.

This is the Bush administration trifecta: ignorance, incompetence, malfeasance. It’s what they do when caught with their Missions Unaccomplished, their cronyism exposed, and Halliburton’s’ hand down their pants.

Judith Miller should have stayed in prison. She’s likely to have a lot of friends there, before long.


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