'From Porno King to First Amendment Martyr': The Strange Saga of Judith Miller

'From Porno King to First Amendment Martyr': The Strange Saga of Judith Miller

Judith Miller, the Times' Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, first came to the attention of NYC Indymedia and other press outlets after the scale of her truly reprehensible journalism in the lead up to and aftermath of the Iraq invasion became too obvious to ignore. In May 2004, we wrote:

"All it took for the Times to apologize for its Iraq coverage in the run-up war was for their lead source on bogus WMD's to be unmasked as a long-time Iranian double-agent. In today's paper, the Times "apoligized" for much of its pre-war WMD reporting. "It is past ime we turned the same light on ourselves," editors admit."

"The Times claims that "some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated." While it is certainly useful to spread the blame, the vast majority of the questionable Iraq-WMD stories were written or co-written by disgraced reporter Judith Miller, who inexplicably still has a job at the paper."

Of course, its somewhat impolitic to trash a reporter who is about to spend her first night in the pokey defending the freedom of the American press-- which might be why no one in the media is saying a whole lot about Miller's dodgy past. It almost goes without saying that the current government-led assault on journalists is breathtaking in scope and should be resisted. All allies, including Judy Miller, are welcome to join the fight.

That said, a number of journalists have made it clear the current battle over reporter / source confidentiality is being fought on pretty shaky ground. This isn't the case of a disgruntled FBI agent helping pull the curtains away from a corrupt, paranoid administration; rather, its a scenario in which a journalist is protecting a government official who blew the cover of an undercover CIA agent as part of a campaign of political retribution. As recent reports in Editor and Publisher have noted, the ultimate source of the Plame leak may yet turn out to be Presidential advisor Karl Rove. Douglas McCollam sums it up nicely in a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review:

"Among the more than two dozen reporters, lawyers, and editors I talked to for this article there was a real concern that, far from enhancing the reporter’s privilege, the Plame case could put a stake through its heart. In part this stems from the seedy particulars of the story itself. Like the porno king who must be transformed into a First Amendment martyr, there is a sense that the Plame outing through Novak by his sources was the kind of sleazy Beltway maneuver that represents the worst use of confidential information.

Or as Bill Israel writes in Editor and Publisher: "journalists as a community have been played for patsies by the president’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, and are enabling him to abuse the First Amendment, by their invoking it."

Which is where the Miller case comes full circle. After all, this isn't the first time Miller has been tainted by her dalliance with sleazy anonymous sources. Perhaps these quotes ring a bell:

"This reporter was not permitted to visit the warehouse but heard descriptions of it from Americans who went to the site. ... Iraqis have told American weapons experts that Iraqi scientists tested various agents on dogs and other animals at this site, the experts said ... Clad in nondescript clothes and a baseball cap, [the mysterious, anonymous Iraq scientist] pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried..."

And so back to the ultimate paradox of Miller case. 'From porno king to First Amendment martyr' indeed-- the current government attack on the press is damn scary. But that shouldn't blind us to the way in which anonymous sources have been used for political revenge, policy promotion ... and to help pave the way to war. The latest chapter in the Miller / Plame case only continues a twisted saga that is far, far more complicated than the New York Times might have us believe.