When I got an e-mail this week from a colleague touting New York Times reporter Judith Miller's appearance at a recent journalism confab (including a photo of said colleague with Miller), my first reaction was probably not the one he expected. You see, I cringed.
That's because, from the get-go, I've had reservations about the media's adulation of Miller's decision to go to jail to protect her sources. I've had this sneaking suspicion that her decision was, at least in part, a CYA move.
Maybe that's because we now know that much of the "evidence" Miller reported about the threat posed by Iraq in the run-up to the U.S. invasion (remember those WMDs?) was misleading. Wait, let's call a spade a spade: it was a pack of lies.
To my mind, that leaves two choices: either Miller was a gullible sap (and a bad reporter) who got conned by the Bush administration into reporting those lies and exaggerations...or she was a willing participant who happily pushed propaganda. Either way, she doesn't look much like a media hero to me.
Watching all the recent hoopla about Miller, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. And now it has. Well, maybe not the whole shoe, maybe just the insole. But whatever it was, it's hit the floor with a thud.
In what an AP story termed a "dramatic e-mail" to NYT staff, Executive Editor Bill Keller said that Miller "appeared to have misled" the newspaper about her dealings with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on these issues, and on her knowledge of Libby's possible role in the "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame (the subject of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation, as discussed in this AP article).
However, I think Keller's missing the real point: Miller didn't just mislead the paper and her colleagues; she helped scam the entire nation. If something's printed in the Times, people tend to take it seriously.
I agree with Jack Shafer of Slate. Asserting that "journalistic standards were betrayed at the Times," he wrote:
"…Miller continues to haunt the New York Times two and a half years after her Iraq work was widely discredited, because the paper has yet to document how she botched the story of the decade and catalog the role she played in the current White House imbroglio.
"…The Times won't break free of Miller's malevolent spirit until the paper commissions an exorcism in print, akin to the ones it conducted following the Blair and Lee possessions."
Let the exorcism begin.