Remember when you a kid and you played whatever game you played? Maybe you were a detective, maybe you were a teacher, a police officer, a reporter? And it always worked out well for you because in the fantasy land of pretend, you controlled the outcome.
The New York Times wants to have it that way. It's not quite working out for them, but they still control the message and that's why you get a Adam Liptak's "Court Declines to Rule on Case of Reporters' Refusal to Testify" on the front page today. Is it the most pressing issue facing the nation? No, it's honestly not. Is it some pattern in front paging journalism issues?
No, it's not. Giuliana Sgrena was shot (and Nicola Calipari killed) by US troops. In Iraq, no less. The Times didn't see that as a front page issue. It was eventually a segment on 60 Minutes II but to the Times, it was "inside the paper" news.
Well, they've not been brave on any international issues having to do with reporters? Not true. They've been very concerned with their own stringer in China. See journalism matters only if you work for the Times.
Domestically? Well we could go over the case that they treated as regional news during the whole "Judy Miller may go to jail!" period. It wasn't front paged either. He didn't work for the Times. But damned if every detail and development on Judy Miller isn't earth shattering news to them. Every detail and development on her facing jail time of course, not every detail and development that refuted all of her pumped her pre-war reporting. When it comes to that, Miller becomes "The Name The Times Dare Not Mention."
So yesterday the Supreme Court refused to hear the case involving Judy Miller and Matt Cooper of Time Magazine. That's not the only case the Court refused to hear. But to read the Times this morning, it's the only one that matters.
Op-eds and editorials from the paper of record (no, Okrent never did find when the paper itself pushed that slogan -- hint, it was in the seventies) and constant coverage has sought to make this if not the Michael Jackson case, at least a close second.
It's a good thing the Times is pushing that line because not many other people really are.
In the case of Plame, a malicious leak has destroyed a CIA agent’s career, and possibly placed her life, and that of others, in jeopardy. In such cases, the state certainly has a compelling interest in any or all information that might get to the truth.
Where did that appear? Not in the New York Times. That appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, "A Murder Case, a Subpoena, and a Reporter Ready to Go to Jail to Protect What He Knows. Why Did He Start to Feel Like a Dope?" by Mark Bowden.
Plame? Oh yeah, Valerie Plame. The side issue to the coverage because the Times never really probed too deeply there. Her name and her outing exist as a side issue to all the "Poor Judy" coverage that the paper's pimped.
The paper wants to stand behind her and certainly that's far more loyal than any stance they took in the early seventies when a reporter was left to his own devices. But standing by her, questionable as it is, may be one thing. Presenting her legal difficulties as "news that effects your life" is another thing entirely.
Judith Miller's gone on the chat show circuit and the speaking circuit. Didn't work out too well for her in either situation. In once instance, Michael Kinsley (of all people) asked her tough questions. In the other setting, Charlie Rose gave her soft balls but she failed to score sympathy points with the audience.
The make over's not taken. She tries to play herself off like Sally Field and America doesn't buy it. It's not just the squinty eyes or the haircut that wouldn't work on a woman half her age (when you leave Brownies, you should probably leave behind that haircut).
It does have to do with the fact that her cheerleading a nation into a war isn't seen as "endearing." It does have to do with the fact that whether or not she goes to jail doesn't change that a CIA agent was outed.
See that is the story. Not Judith Miller. Valerie Plame was outed. By Robert Novak, but Miller knows or has a pretty good idea who was involved. It's not a crime for Novak to out Plame. If the person who outed Plame is in the administration, it is a crime for the person who outed her.
(And Bully Boy can thank his Poppy for advocating that law.)
Miller, who didn't out Plame and didn't write about her (like pretty much everyone else at the Times, she's had no interest in that topic -- then or now), wants to claim that her source is protected. As most people understand a source, that's someone who gives you information for a story you're writing. With Miller, suddenly a source is anyone she's ever spoken to.
That's why some journalists are so damn offended that she hasn't coughed up the name already.
She (and the Times) are unilaterally deciding to expand the notion of journalistic rights at a time when journalistic rights (valid ones) are under attack.
Miller as Sally Field didn't play (and it won't). But the paper and Miller appear to have no backup plan. So instead they waste paper, print and readers' time by pushing this notion that the Court refusing to hear her case is somehow one of the most important stories of our time.
It's not. Compared to the death row inmates who didn't get a hearing in any session, Miller is small time.
But when the paper pushes this as "big news," it does have the effect of reminding many Americans of why they don't trust Miller and, honestly, don't like her. The Third Estate Sunday Review had a suggestion awhile back (I'll provide the link later tonight, I'm rushing, sorry) that if the Times truly wanted to help Miller avoid jail time, the answer was simple: assign some reporters to the Plame story and break the news on who leaked her name to the press.
The paper doesn't want to do that. They just want to continue to play up the angle of "Poor Judy" and act surprised when America doesn't break out into a collective sob.
Her "reporting" is well known and that's part of the problem. But the Times want to ignore that and act as though she's Brenda Starr or Clark Kent or some other fictional creation. She's a bad reporter who either got burned by her sources with misinformation or else decided that truth came second to cheerleading us into war.
There's not a great deal of sympathy for her. And every time the paper plays up her story as earth shattering it hurts her case all the more.
Two quick items. Bill Keller posted something online at the paper's web site. No link because it's nonsense. (More of his trying to be loved by all by being everything to everyone and ending up being nothing to anyone.) But e-mails came in about it. To clarify, he's not making the calls for the Sunday Magazine. I'm not sure that he's attempting to claim that he is. But the impression some people are left with is that he is taking credit for stories that the Sunday Magazine ran.
Second item, Billie e-mails to note that the Washington Post has a real story on the Downing Street Memo, Glenn Frankel's "From Memos, Insights Into Ally's Doubts On Iraq War." (I haven't had a chance to read it yet.)
The e-mail address for this site is email@example.com.
[Note: This post has been corrected for typos. Thanks Shirley for pointing them out. Thanks to either Ava or Kat who beat me to all but two.]