by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
October 16, 2005
THE JUDITH MILLER CASE
The American Reporter took a unique approach to the Judith Miller case, in which a Federal judge in the Valerie Plame investigation ordered her jailed for refusing to testify regarding her sources, to whom she had promised anonymity.
We strongly supported Judith Miller's decision not to testify, and even more so, we admired and were inspired by the decision of the New York Times Co. to spend millions of dollars on behalf of a principle that has allowed countless whistleblowers and others to come forward without subjecting them to retaliation for telling the truth.
Every other day during her two months in jail, we ran a boldface notice at the top of our homepage expressing our encouragement for these decisions; I don't think anyone at The Times ever noticed them, but we did make it clear that as reporters our publication does care very much about the principles that protect our confidential sources and permit us to publish otherwise unprintable information.
The right to protect one's sources has no explicit support in the Constitution. The right to a free press granted by the First Amendment is not in itself - without supporting legislation from Congress - sufficiently clear to guarantee that a reporter can shield his or her sources from exposure in court.
For a lot of different reasons, most of them political and some of the constitutional, Congress has been reluctant to create such a shield. There is none for priests who hear murder confessions in the confessional, nor for reporters who hear state secrets in an interview, and thus we all remain equal under the law. Some state laws, such as one in California, do provide a limited exception. It perhaps begs the question to say the concept of a shield law could have protected many abusive priests; it might also protect abusive journalists.
Our broad and strong support for the principle of confidentiality for news sources must not be confused with any approval of Judith Miller's reporting. It is not enough to state that she supported the Bush administration's case for the war against Iraq by repeatedly reporting unqualified assurances that Saddam Hussein possessed various implements of mass destruction. In my own estimate, Judith Miller is a liar.
In the stunning probe the paper conducted of its own reporting on the WMD story, her articles (some of them written with other Times reporters) comprised five of the six the paper published that supported the administration's alleged belief that Hussein had such weapons.
Clearly, she was beating the drum for war, and we do not believe for a moment that in her own mind she was convinced such weapons existed or that she did not know and at least intuitively understand that in her reporting she was doing a job not for the Times alone, as should have been, but for the part of the intelligence community that is tasked to defend the interests of Israel when they can be harmonized with those of the United States - and sometimes even when they cannot.
There is a fact of life that has rarely been mentioned since Seymour Hersh back in the 1970's reported (in the Times) that the Central Intelligence Agency had long been paying journalists at major newspapers, networks and wire services to be part of their teams. I should add that a "fact of life" is by all means a "fact" that may not be availed of proof, and then I must say that Judith Miller is more than a reporter. In later years, "pay" has become "access" and a book, instead.
In her reporting on weapons of mass destruction, Miller has been fulfilling a vaguely defined but politically vital function that allows government - permanent, constitutional government - to go about its business in the national security sphere with the critical support of public opinion.
Her role was simple: to repeat what she was told in print while rejecting any critical analysis that disproved it. Moreover, her role has broad support in government, and one need only hear the criticism that attends attacks on the falsity of government statements regard national security issues to know that her role is secure. She is not alone in what she does; otherwise respected reporters for major news organizations, such as Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume and a few others, do the same job for government.
The reporters, when pressed, would likely explain themselves as having been forced to make critical choices between accuracy and access; they would likely say that uncritical reporting of government views on national security issues is the only way to gain access to the highest levels of power. But in fact, that access - especially to high-level liars - is only necessary when government wants to tell us its point of view. That is often obvious from its actions, which are more easily and accurately reported.
Misleading the American people is a time-honored tradition of many famous politicians. Most presidents have engaged in it. They marshal slender files of evidence and from it construct reams of elaboration, giving their chosen reporters a substantive-seeming defense and supporting documentation to persuade wary editors. The handful of reporters being used by the government must have sufficient autonomy to be able to safely report a lie, and sufficient standing in the journalistic community - and support from the owners of their news organizations - to resist the attacks that may come when the publish lies.
Many Americans, contrary to what we might typically say and believe, find such reporting defensible. They feel no need to know all of the truth, as it does not assist them at all in their daily lives; they similarly respect the need of government to do things in secret, and to have secret goals and operations, so that it can defend us from our enemies and carry out the actions that smart government people believe are necessary to do that.
Thus the agendas of first, protecting Israel - whose physical presence as a state is our ultimate insurance against a catastrophic denial of access to Middle Eastern oil, and whose supporters produce a substantial portion of all the campaign contributions given each year - and second, defending America - which, after all, except for internal subversion and the occasional Al-Qaeda attack - is probably unassailable, are goals and operations that fulfill certain aims of American foreign policy and of the grateful people who create it.
I will disappoint many when I say I cannot dispute the rationality of these goals. Israel's odious approach to the Palestinians could never justify our generous financial help, if only due to its impact on public opinion; if we did not fully support Israel, though, its security would be quickly eroded, and the armies of Araby would conquer and destroy it once they got past the nuclear option that we probably provided.
Who would the United States then have as an ally in that region? Saudi Arabia? It would go next. Jordan, third. Bahrain, the tamer Emirates, etc? Simultaneously. And what would it cost us to switch our fondness for Israel to fondness for Islamic states? Perhaps nothing economically, but it would be extremely painful; who wants to be in bed with people who chop off heads for adultery, and force women not to wear miniskirts?
It's a lot worse than that, of course. It would require us to back off all of our human rights stands, all of our hopes for Middle Eastern democracies, all of our resistance to the use of shari'a Islamic law in international courts, all of our commitment to rights based on gender, religion and due process - it would degrade and deprave our shelter, our culture, our Constitution.
What troubles me is that we have to lie so much about it. Our government cannot afford to be explicitly so pro-Israel and anti-Islam that it concretely risks access to oil - not unless, that is, we are guaranteed access to the vast and very long-lived resources of Iraq, which dwarf those of most oil-producing nations combined.
That guarantee will only be fulfilled by a friendly government there. And not unless, that is, we acknowledge that in any historic fight with Islam and its extreme defenders, we need a secure and highly strategic base of operations, a mountain redoubt, if you will, that allows us to attack and destroy our extremist enemies with a good degree of impunity, and that is what Iraq is for us. It borders most of the nations that hate us and in so doing fulfills the Godfather's dictum, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."
Judith Miller is an instrument of all that. Firing her would only achieve the promotion of the Miller-in-waiting. I wish her no harm. There must always be a Miller, just as there must always be a Shea.