"I was proved f**king right." That was Judith Miller's response to Salon's James C. Moore
("Not Fit to Print"):
"You know what," she offered angrily. "I was proved f**king right. That's what happened. People who disagreed with me were saying, 'There she goes again.' But I was proved f**king right."
(Please note, Miller was not then on, what some community members have dubbed, her attempted TV make over into Sally Field. Also note, for those who would like to read about this statement and others, as well as commentary on her non-reality based reporting during the lead up to war and, in fact, while the war was going on but do not want to watch an ad to view a Salon article, you can check out the Dan Kennedy's "Miller's Times" in The Boston Phoenix.)
Miller made comments on Chris Matthew's Hardball show recently that set off a discussion. She stated that our administration was in talks with Chalabi. (The Third Estate Sunday Review mentioned this in their editorial "Danny Okrent -- Ready for his own sitcom or menace to society?" but I don't believe we've mentioned it here. Disclosure, I assisted with The Third Estate Sunday Review editorial.)
I first learned of Miller's remarks via BuzzFlash which linked to "Together Again" by Jack Shafer. [Note, I get a solid red page when I try to access, in case that happens to anyone else here's a link for the cached version of the story.] [Note also, there's a font error of some kind in the cached version. I'm assuming that's not on the official version and have corrected "to" as "to."]
Citing unnamed "sources," Miller claimed that the Bush administration had recently made "belated and sudden outreaches" to Ahmad Chalabi, "to offer him expressions of cooperation and support." She continued, "And according to one report, he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government. But I think one effect of this vote is going to be that the Iraqis themselves will decide who will hold."
These revelations stunned Hardball host Chris Matthews and a nation of Miller skeptics.
Matthews: Wait a minute. When you say—Judy, when you say administration, do you mean the alliance party leadership or Allawi over there, the current prime minister? Who are you talking about?
Miller: We are talking about the administration officials who have been reaching out to …
Matthews: You mean Americans? [Italics in the MSNBC transcript.]
Miller: ... [Ayatollah] Sistani's—yes, American officials who have been reaching out to Sistani's party. Because Dr. Chalabi is on that list.
Matthews: So where—so we have an election over there. And the same day we're holding an election, the same week, we are plotting which ministries to give to Chalabi, the guy who talked us into the war in the first place.
Miller: No, no. There were expressions. There was apparently an effort to determine whether or not he would be interested in assuming a certain portfolio.
Matthews: Why are we in the business of deciding or even negotiating cabinet ministries in a foreign government?
Miller: No. Well, you know, Chris, first of all, this is just one report. But I think what is very clear, according to people I talked to today, is that they have been attempting to mend fences with him. Now understanding that as a tent [phonetic transcription] on that Sistani list, the Shia list, he will be an important person in Iraq. And I think that there will have to be a lot of rethinking on the part of the Americans with whom they want to deal.
Matthews: … the idea that the man who won his country back through the vice president's office, Ahmed Chalabi, finds his way now through all this electoral process to end up as oil minister or finance minister, as you say, interior minister—and I think he has higher ambitions than that—makes the electoral process come down to the guy who started the war, ends up winning the war, irregardless of how people vote over there.
Miller: Well, you know, I think the interesting thing was the up and down, was the kind of rise and fall of Ahmed Chalabi in this administration. On one hand, in the beginning, he was the person supported adamantly by the Defense Department. He was opposed by the State Department and the CIA …
. . .
Once again, amazing if true, and if true worthy of inclusion in the Times. But Miller's claim did not make today's (Jan. 31) New York Times' news pages. An op-ed describes Chalabi as
"now disowned by the Americans who sponsored him. …"
Why isn't it in the Times? Miller tells Matthews that she hasn't talked to her newspaper and is "on vacation in Florida."
On vacation in Florida? She has the second-biggest Iraq story of the day (after the successful election) and vacation is keeping her from phoning in this scoop?!
In The Third Estate Sunday Review editorial, Daniel Okrent was chided for devoting a column/op-ed to comments made by Miller on television, not in print. (He's the public editor of the New York Times, the readers' representative. And he has enough to deal with regarding what the Times prints without 'chasing down' 'scoops' on why something was said or not said on TV.)
Front page of this morning's New York Times features a story by Dexter Filkins entitled "A Former Exile Sees His Hopes Revive in Iraq: Chalabi Is Jockeying to Be Prime Minister."
Get ready for Miller to shyly demure, again, "I was proved f**king right!" Only this time, she may have actually be correct.
With WMD and assorted other stories, Miller's stories didn't bear out. Whether she was duped (willing or not) or an active participant in articles that can be termed "propaganda" isn't the point here. The point is who was her pipeline? "Official sources" (within the administration and
Ahmad Chalabi himself).
When Matthews reacted in shock (appropriately, my opinion -- and "shock" is my evaluation based on the transcript, I don't watch TV) Miller back pedaled with it being based on "one story." Do we interpret that as "one source?"
Miller's pipeline remains in place. So if it's "one source" -- who's the source?
Regardless, why didn't the Times follow up on that. (As Shafer asked in his "Together Again?")
Several times, I've done a draft about sources and deleted it because I found something I felt was more pressing that day. (Or, honestly, unhappy with the way it meandered -- as does this post.) A reporter is only as good as their sources is usually the point and that's a point that's been touched on in other entries.
Dealing with comments leading us into war, Miller either offered no dissenting voices or buried them within her story. Something she continues to do with her UN reporting, reporting that reveals her pipeline with the administration still flows freely. She is also still in contact with Chalabi.
Matthews shock (outrage?) is appropriate. But someone fed the story to Miller. I don't think she's been accused of inventing the lies passed on to her, I could be wrong. So when Miller makes that claim, someone's fed it to her.
If it's Chalabi, his reasons for doing so are probably obvious to readers of Filkins' story in today's paper. If it's the administration (with or without Chalabi), then the Times failed to inform the readers of a very important development. (Okrent, take note, now you have the basis for a column.)
The paper could beg off with the excuse that due to the faulty reporting of previous stories on Chalabi and Iraq that erupted from Miller's data processor, they weren't willing to let Miller right this article or take the heat for it. While it's true that Miller's byline raises eyebrows among some readers (myself included), I don't think (again, I could be wrong) that anyone's yet to accuse her of distorting her administration sources. (She's accused, rightly, of not having enough skepticsm or offering enough dissenting sources.)
The paper could have (and should have) encouraged Miller to share her information with a collegue at the paper (which is appropriate under the ethics guideline -- see re-reading it last night, wasn't a total waste). Someone else could have pursued the story for the paper. (Miller noted she was on vacation to Matthews.) Even without her cooperation, when Miller made the remarks on the show the Times (and other papers as well, but we focus on the Times here) should have pursued her allegations.
If she had only one source (if that's what she means by "one story"), it was news either way.
If Chalabi told her that (or someone in his camp) it was an indication that Chalabi (whether the US was assisting him or not) was gearing up to return to the spotlight and to power. If it was the administration (again, if "one story" means one source), it was news that would have likely provoked the same reaction in some (many?) people that Chris Matthews had:
Matthews: You mean Americans? [Italics in the MSNBC transcript.] . . .
So where—so we have an election over there. And the same day we're holding an election, the same week, we are plotting which ministries to give to Chalabi, the guy who talked us into the war in the first place. . . . Why are we in the business of deciding or even negotiating cabinet ministries in a foreign government? . . . the idea that the man who won his country back through the vice president's office, Ahmed Chalabi, finds his way now through all this electoral process to end up as oil minister or finance minister, as you say, interior minister—and I think he has higher ambitions than that—makes the electoral process come down to the guy who started the war, ends up winning the war, irregardless of how people vote over there.
Maybe the paper just didn't want to put the spotlight on Miller. Bill Keller implied that in his comments to Okrent. A better reply might have been, "Okrent, you do realize that Jack Shafer is a media critic and you are the ombudsman of this paper, right?" Point being, Shafer critiques all media. Okrent's responsibility is supposed to be over what is in the paper and what the paper kills. Today, with Filkins front page story, this is now an issue for the public editor. Prior to that, it was speculation better left to media critics while Okrent hunted down an issue over what appeared in print and what didn't.
Okrent jumped the gun (as he did with his "pre-emptive strike on the Tonys" -- criticizing the coverage before it had appeared in print). It's good that someone at the paper cared about the issue (even I will give Okrent credit for that); however, it was then out of his scope.
With today's front page article by Filkins, the entire issue now belongs to him, he owns it. Provided at least one reader raises the issue to him. (He is, after all, supposed to be addressing their concerns about the paper.)
Miller made claims on television to Chris Matthews. Miller is a reporter for the paper. The paper remained silent on her claims and today the front page story by Filkins lends credence to Miller's "one story." Fourteen days after her remarks. Remarks made on the day of "free elections." Was the story put aside to avoid raining on the rah-rah-rah election coverage?
That's a question Okrent can now press Keller on. (And Keller should have to respond. The issue is no longer Miller, it's why the Times waited fourteen days to cover an issue that was very pertinent.) Who was Miller's source? Who is Filkins source? (Or sources in both cases.) What explains the reluctance of the paper to deal with this in a timely fashion?
My theory (and I could be wrong): the paper didn't want to "embarrass" the administration. The whole purple finger photo-op was playing so nicely for many, why rock the boat by acknowledging that behind the scenes manuevers were taking place in this supposed open-election?
This isn't a defense of Miller, but, if she wants to crow she was "proven right," she may be able to convincingly crow that on this one issue.
But the issue regarding her reporting, prior to being reassigned to the UN beat, was never questioning whether Miller could jot down just what the administration or Chalabi (or both) wanted her to -- she's proven herself to be an exemplary stenographer. I'd put her in charge of keeping the minutes at any committee meeting in an instant.
I don't think (and again, I could be wrong) anyone's doubted that she was fed those stories. No one has, to the best of my knowledge, accused of her inventing questionable facts (just of swallowing them). So when Miller speaks or writes, you can be sure that someone fed her. (Overfed?). (No, Frank in Orlando, that's not a weight crack -- Miller's "lithe." Term used intentionally.)
So, as the paper rallies around her, why did they refuse to pursue this story?
Keller has written:
Judy is a smart, relentless, incredibly well-sourced, and fearless reporter. It’s a little galling to watch her pursued by some of these armchair media ethicists who have never ventured into a war zone or earned the right to carry Judy’s laptop.
If that's how he feels, why didn't they pursue this story?
That's the column Okrent could (and should) write now. Whether or not it would get to the heart of the matter (which may have to do with the "costs" of access and the need to continue being "the official paper of record") , I can only guess. But there's Okrent's column. (If at least one reader complains.)
[Note: 2-24-05. This post has been corrected in two ways. 1) The post went into italics after the first few paragraphs. 2) Jack Shafer's name was wrongly spelled by me "Jack Shaefer." My apologies. When names are mispelled by me, they will be corrected. E-mail email@example.com should you come across one because it's not the first time and it won't be the last time.]