As I type this, Valerie Miller
is singing her heart out to a grand jury hearing the Valerie Plame
case. For the past 85 days, the New York Times reporter has been doing the Martha Stewart
shuffle at the Alexandria Detention Center
, a martyr to the cause of the First Amendment (or so it would seem). Prison officials must be relieved. Over that time Miller had turned the minimum security facility into a kind of media salon, playing hostess to such celebrity visitors as John Bolton, Bob Dole, Tom Brokaw, and Arlen Specter. After all that they’re probably happy to get back to shoplifters and wayward moms.
Miller agreed to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Affair, saying she finally received ‘explicit uncoerced consent’ from her source to reveal his identity. Who is, as everyone who’s followed this case closely has known for months, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, top aide to VP Dick Cheney. So why the veil of secrecy?
It gets weirder. Through his attorney, Libby says he gave Miller permission to squeal over a year ago. “We are surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration,” says attorney Joseph Tate. (Apparently the Vice President’s staff doesn’t get cable or read newspapers either.) Perhaps they forgot to say “mother may I?”
At first, I was sympathetic to Miller. As a journalist, I respect the tradition of protecting your sources (thus ensuring a free and unfettered press). At the time, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald seemed to be on a witch hunt for journalists; his appointment smelled like yet another form of retribution for exposing Bush administration falsehoods. But the more we’ve learned about the case, the more it seems clear that Fitzgerald is the real deal, and the Bush administration is in real trouble. It also began to appear that Miller was not protecting her sources so much as protecting her friends -- that her silence was an effort to keep her neocon buddies from being fitted for orange jumpsuits.
Miller is the Matt Drudge of mainstream reporters – a kind of filtration system for conservative sludge. The WMD propaganda team played her like a $2 fiddle, maybe in part because she let herself be played. She is reputedly a neocon herself and a supporter of the war. Her sources for WMD ‘intel’ are rumored to be Ahmed Chalabi and John Bolton, neither of whom has a sparkling reputation for veracity. But her incarceration – in fact, the whole Plame Affair – highlights a disturbing trend in the manipulation of the press: the use of anonymous sources for character assassination or deliberate disinformation. It has been a favorite tool of this administration in particular. Do such sources deserve anonymity? I don’t think so. I think reporters need to apply a stronger sniff test when they get “anonymous” information that obviously benefits the source or his/her employer. All sources have some ulterior motive—there are few saints among us—but there’s a difference between whistleblowers who fear for their jobs (or worse), and those who want to push their agendas without being held accountable. It’s not that hard to figure out the difference. Miller should know that. And maybe, after nearly three months in the pokey, she’ll be more careful about what anonymous sources she trusts and whose lies get published on page one of the Times. But I’m not hopeful.