New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her source to federal prosecutors investigating who leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent, will pick up a First Amendment Award at the 2005 Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Convention & National Journalism Conference on Oct. 18 in Las Vegas.So, what does this so-called Code of Ethics include? Here's the list. First, there's the section called "Seek Truth and Report It." Here are a few of Judy's lowlights in this section.
According to a press release for the event, Miller will speak to participants and then join a panel discussion titled "The Reporter's Privilege Under Siege." Joining Miller on the panel are Associated Press reporter Josef Hebert, Patricia Hurtado of Newsday, and Bruce Sanford of Baker and Hostetler law firm.
- Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
The Times's Judith Miller has been the subject of harsh criticism. Slate, The Nation, Editor & Publisher, the American Journalism Review, and the Columbia Journalism Review have all run articles accusing her of being too eager to accept official claims before the war and too eager to report the discovery of banned weapons after it. Especially controversial has been Miller's alleged reliance on Chalabi and the defectors who were in touch with him. Last May, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post wrote of an e-mail exchange between Miller and John Burns, then the Times bureau chief in Baghdad, in which Burns rebuked Miller for writing an article about Chalabi without informing him. Miller replied that she had been covering Chalabi for about ten years and had "done most of the stories about him for our paper." Chalabi, she added, "has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper."
- Michael Massing, "Now They Tell Us" New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004
My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction.
- Judith Miller, on WBUR-FM's The Connection
In September 2002, a year after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Miller had yet another Osama scoop provided by the authorities. Headlined "Lab Suggests Qaeda Planned to Build Arms, Officials Say," the article begins: "Pentagon officials disclosed new details today about equipment found in a laboratory near Kandahar, Afghanistan, that they contend Al Qaeda intended to use to make biological and chemical weapons."
Is this a real story? The headline and lead are powerful. But here's the second paragraph: "The officials said the equipment--a centrifuge for separating liquids and an oven in which slurried agents could be dried--supported the assessment that Al Qaeda might have acquired what it needed to make 'a very limited production of biological and chemical agents,' one official said."
Each time Miller produces an article that could induce panic, she almost always mentions, some paragraphs down, that Al Qaeda's capability to deploy or develop these types of weapons has been judged by the Bush Administration to be crude at best. But the effect remains the same. Miller gets a story with a whopper of a headline, the story gets picked up and it connects with the American zeitgeist in support of extreme measures by the Administration domestically (Patriot Act) and internationally (invade Iraq), with few reading down to where Miller deflates the balloon and thereby preserves her credibility, in the same way that politicians leak and spin while preserving their deniability.
-Russ Baker, "'Scoops' and Truth at the Times"
Miller's dissembling continued this week when she told Women's Wear Daily on Feb. 10 that Massing's piece "misquoted and misrepresented" her. If Massing really misquoted and misrepresented her, don't you think she should have brought the subject up during The Connection's 45-minute broadcast? Massing responded to Miller's allegation in a letter to Romenesko, writing, "Per our agreement, I checked every quote with her prior to publication. She approved each and every one."
- Jack Shafer, "Miller Time (Again)"
A final bit of brazen chicanery from Gordon and Miller:
"Iraq denied the existence of a germ warfare program entirely until 1995, when United Nations inspectors forced Baghdad to acknowledge it had such an effort. Then, after insisting that it had never weaponized bacteria or filled warheads, it again belatedly acknowledged having done so after Hussein Kamel, Mr. Hussein's brother-in-law, defected to Jordan with evidence about the scale of the germ warfare program."
What Gordon and Miller leave out (or lacked the enterprise or desire to find out) is that Hussein Kamel told UN Inspectors that he had destroyed all Iraq's WMDs, on Saddam Hussein's orders.
-Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch
- Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
Of course, I talked with Chalabi," she said. "I wouldn't have been doing my job if I didn't. But he was just one of many sources I used while I was in Iraq."
Miller refused to say who some of those other sources were, claiming their identities were sacrosanct. Nonetheless, her reportage appeared to reflect Chalabi's intelligence gathering and his political cant. At his behest, she interviewed defectors from Hussein's regime, who claimed without substantiation that there was still a clandestine WMD program operating inside Iraq. U.S. investigators now believe that Chalabi sent these same Iraqi expatriates to at least eight Western spy agencies as part of a scheme to persuade them to overthrow Saddam. An unknown number of them appear to have stopped along the way to speak with Miller.
- James C. Moore, "Not Fit to Print," Salon, May 27, 2004
- Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
It was Miller who clearly placed far too much credence in unreliable sources, and then credulously used dubious administration officials to confirm what she was told.
And of all Miller's unreliable sources, the most unreliable was Ahmed Chalabi -- whose little neocon-funded kingdom came crashing down last week when Iraqi forces smashed down his door after U.S. officials feared he was sending secrets to Iran.
Even before the latest suspicions about Chalabi, a reporter trying to convince an editor that the smooth-talking exile was a credible source would have a difficult case to make. First, he was a convicted criminal. While living in exile from Iraq, Chalabi was accused of embezzling millions from his Petra Bank in Amman, Jordan. Leaving the country in the trunk of a car reportedly driven by Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, Chalabi was convicted in absentia and still faces 22 years in prison, if he ever returns. Evidence presented in the trial indicated Chalabi's future outside of Jordan was secured by $70 million he stole from his depositors. Chalabi maintains his innocence and has suggested his prosecution was political because he was involved in efforts to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq.
Even more damning, Chalabi was a player, an interested party with his own virulently pro-war agenda -- a fact that alone should have raised editorial suspicions about any claims he might make that would pave the way to war.
- James C. Moore, "Not Fit to Print"
- Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller played a highly unusual role in an Army unit assigned to search for dangerous Iraqi weapons, according to U.S. military officials, prompting criticism that the unit was turned into what one official called a "rogue operation."
More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as a middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion accompanying Army officers to Chalabi's headquarters, where they took custody of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law. She also sat in on the initial debriefing of the son-in-law, these sources say...
The MET Alpha team was charged with examining potential Iraqi weapon sites in the war's aftermath. Military officers critical of the unit's conduct say its members were not trained in the art of human intelligence -- that is, eliciting information from prisoners and potential defectors. Specialists in such interrogations say the initial hours of questioning are crucial, and several Army and Pentagon officials were upset that MET Alpha officers were debriefing Hussein son-in-law Jamal Sultan Tikriti.
"This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence," said one military officer who, like several others interviewed, declined to be named because he is not an authorized spokesman. But, the officer said of Miller, "this woman came in with a plan. She was leading them. . . . She ended up almost hijacking the mission."
Said a senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, of which MET Alpha is a part: "It's impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better." Three weapons specialists were reassigned as the unit changed its approach, according to officers with the task force.
- Howard Kurtz, "Embedded Reporter's Role In Army Unit's Actions Questioned by Military"
The next section of the Code is "Minimize Harm." All I have to say is go here. However, some would argue that her stand on the First Amendment doesn't have anything to do with her Iraq coverage. Of course, that's bullshit.
Clymer also pointed out that some at the paper still resented Miller for her grievously flawed reporting on Iraq's alleged weapons of destruction, especially those who tried to dissuade her at the time.The Code goes on, recommending that reporters "Act Independently."
This is a critical point. Defenders of Miller's actions in the Plame affair have long complained that she has unfairly suffered in the court of media opinion because she is tainted by her many errors on WMDs -- which, after all, helped ease the path to a catastrophic war. This defense is absurd, of course, since the entire Plame case stems directly from the bogus WMD claims and the administration's attempt to tar those brave souls (Miller not among them) who later raised questions.
Rarely mentioned is that Keller's defense of Miller pre-dates the Plame case. The Times not only apparently failed to punish her for her WMD reporting (which did, indeed, prove far more deadly than Jayson Blair's illusions), it went out of its way to shield her from embarrassment.
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
From her first day at the Times, Miller’s life and work have been hard to separate, which for a reporter is both a strength and a weakness. “She’s a passionate person—she gets caught up in her sources passionately,” one of her Times colleagues told me. Friends from her earliest days in Washington noted that she didn’t surround herself with people her own age. She sought out the best and brightest at the city’s highest levels, dating Larry Sterne, the Washington Post’s foreign editor, and hanging out with the defense gurus Richard Perle and Walter Slocum. “These people were powerful. But they were also interesting, and Judy liked talking to them. She is curious and enthusiastic,” says one friend from this period...
Her Iraq coverage didn’t just depend on Chalabi. It also relied heavily on his patrons in the Pentagon. Some of these sources, like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, would occasionally talk to her on the record. She relied especially heavily on the Office of Special Plans, an intelligence unit established beneath Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. The office was charged with uncovering evidence of Al Qaeda links to Saddam Hussein that the CIA might have missed. In particular, Miller is said to have depended on a controversial neocon in Feith’s office named Michael Maloof. At one point, in December 2001, Maloof’s security clearance was revoked. In April, Risen reported in the Times, “Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Mr. Maloof denies.” While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.
-Franklin Foer, "The Source of the Trouble"
Finally, the SPJ says that reporters should "Be Accountable." Let's look at the whole list before discussing.
- Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
- Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
- Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
- Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
- Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
At a paper that prides itself on at least a veneer of collegiality, Miller’s reporting tactics often left jaws agape. According to two Times veterans, reporters at the Pentagon and on other beats have frequently found themselves calling their sources, only to be told, “I’ve already talked to Judy Miller.”And let's not forget that the Times itself failed to mention any specific reporters when it apologized for "problematic articles" which "depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on 'regime change' in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks." They mention Chalabi by name, but never point out that Miller was in his hip pocket the whole damn time.
They charge her with forcing her bylines onto stories, staunchly arguing for the addition of her name after adding mere dribs and drabs of information. “She’s not afraid to get her byline by bigfooting. In fact, that’s how she gets many of them,” charges one of her colleagues.
But when there is trouble, it appears she’s more than happy to pass around the responsibility. One incident that still rankles happened last April, when Miller co-bylined a story with Douglas Jehl on the WMD search that included a quote from Amy Smithson, an analyst formerly at the Henry L. Stimson Center. A day after it appeared, the Times learned that the quote was deeply problematic. To begin with, it had been supplied to Miller in an e-mail that began, “Briefly and on background”—a condition that Miller had flatly broken by naming her source. Miller committed a further offense by paraphrasing the quote and distorting Smithson’s analysis. One person who viewed the e-mail says that it attributed views to Smithson that she clearly didn’t hold. An embarrassing correction ensued. And while the offense had been entirely Miller’s, there was nothing in the correction indicating Jehl’s innocence.
-Franklin Foer, "The Source of the Trouble"
I was a student member of the SPJ a long time ago at Kansas State University. I ended up in the Navy and, when I returned to college, I wasn't that interested in journalism anymore. What I remember of the SPJ was the group's drive to uncover the truth and to speak that truth to power. My student advisor was damn near a prophet of FOIA. It's sad to see this organization sink so low.