Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Ron (Why Are We Back In Iraq) and Rem Rieder (American Journalism Review) on Judith Miller

Ron has post (e-mailed by Dallas) that we're going to tie in with AJR (American Journalism Review). Ron's post is entitled "Committee To Imprison Journalists." He notes people "giddy" over the prospect "of more New York Timesers who they blame for lying before, during, and - if there is an - after the illegal invasion of Iraq."

From his entry:

On July 28th, the Committee to Protect Journalists released the following statement just after its chairman, Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger, Tom Brokaw and the Executive Director for CPJ, Ann Cooper, visited Judith Miller for a half-hour at the Alexandria Detention Center:
"The Committee to Protect Journalists strenuously protests the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Monitoring the jailing of journalists is one of the committee's main missions. According to CPJ research, more than 120 journalists were in jail around the world at the beginning of 2005, primarily in China, Cuba, Eritrea, and other countries where journalists are frequently locked up in the course of practicing their profession."
"In jailing Ms. Miller, the U.S. government is not only undermining the ability of a free press to function in this country but also sending a signal to other governments that such a course is acceptable when dealing with journalists of whose actions they do not approve."
"We, the members of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, urge Judith Miller's immediate release."

Surely, that's pure hyberbole. The imprisonment of Judith Miller will not set some sort of precedent which other countries will use to justify the muzzling of the press - or worse.
Yep. Go ahead. Keep getting giddy and gleeful. Nothing to worry about.
Don't mind yesterday's
news alert issued by CPJ. There can't possibly be any reason to believe that CPJ isn't being hyperbolic:
"Ethiopia's Supreme Court has sentenced a newspaper editor to one month in jail on a contempt charge after the editor refused to identify an unnamed source who criticized an earlier court ruling. The editor of a second paper was fined in a related case."
"Tamrat Serbesa, editor-in-chief of the private Amharic-language weekly Satanaw, was sentenced Friday in connection with the paper's coverage of a Supreme Court verdict in a case involving the National Election Board. The court rejected the opposition CUD party's claim that the election board improperly announced provisional results of the May 15 parliamentary elections before the final count was determined."

[. . .]
Some bloggers preach to their choir. I guess I'm just whistling in the wind. No one seems to give a sh*t that "freedom of the press" may be about to become a quaint relic, not only in America but all over the world.

No, Ron's not whistling in the wind. He's being an independent voice. And he's saying, "Pause here a moment." If anyone thinks Ron's a fan of Judith Miller's reporting, they need only check out his site. He's not. But there are larger issues than whether or not someone likes Miller.

We noted (and the Times did as well) that you don't get to pick what case you make a free speech issue of. Miller's stance (and Somerby owned up to getting this wrong in his Daily Howler today) is that an agreement someone's forced to sign isn't an agreement. People keep forgetting that aspect of the case.

There's a feeling on the part of some that her alleged sources must be this person or that person and that, especially if they include Karl Rove, the sources don't deserve any protection. Because there are apparently "good" sources and "bad" sources.

Reporters get information from a variety of sources (or should). That does include persons that most people would never speak to. Miller's legal stance is quite clear and has been consistent.

But they may be "bad" sources! ("May" is usually left out of the discussion.) "Bad" in terms of not worthy of protection. That may or may not be true. That's not part of the legal argument in the case.

As people visit speculation city (or live there), they seem motivated by wanting to see whomever outed Valerie Plame punished. They also seem motivated by something else.

Bill Keller needs to go to prison, one offers. For his op-eds? Are the ones advocating Keller go to prison unaware of when he took over as executive-editor?

And there's a lot of bashing of the New York Times. No reporter for the Times has ever e-mailed to say, "I'm so glad you love the paper!!!" Quite the contrary. I don't think we go easy on the Times here. (Nor would any of the reporters who e-mail make that allegation.)

Somewhere the American sport of "bash the bitch" meets with a loathing of the Times and a lot of people are ready to weigh in. The New York Times gets a ton wrong. The New York Times gets a ton wrong with no justifiable excuse.

But, and maybe my TV wasn't programmed right, the New York Times doesn't own a cable channel, it doesn't broadcast an evening news program on one of the big three networks (nor a morning infotainment program). And it's also not the paper that everyone reads.

It does have influence, no question. But the Washington Post, for instance, isn't controlled by the New York Times. Nor is the Dallas Morning News. Community member Billie took her problems with the Dallas Morning News to Elaine. You can read the entry here. But what we're looking at is a "variety" of voices, local columnists, a sports columnist, and the music writers (Sheryl Crow was trashed as undeserving of a Grammy and trashed to the point, according Billie, that the primary trasher indicated that another woman should have gotten Crow's nod -- even though the other woman wasn't, in fact, eligible for a Grammy that year). This wide range of voices (two local columnists, a sports writer and the music critics) all managed to be "on message." That's apparently just a happen-stance. One that happened across the country with very few exceptions in the mainstream media. (Billie also notes that the same company, Belo, owns both the Dallas Morning News and one of the main channels in town, the WFAA.)

Now is the sports columnist who trashes Steve Nash and others speaking out against the war (out of the "logic" that there's no draft so they need to shut up) calling Judith Miller before writing a column? Are the local columnists? Did Miller give the marching orders to go after Sheryl Crow?

Did Miller call up Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings and snap, "Boys, no voices of doubt or voices of opposition to the war! Them's the orders, don't buck me on this or it will be your heads!"?

I don't think so. The New York Times is responsible for their paper. Judith Miller is responsible for her writing. But we're approaching a situation where they're the scapegoats for all the sins of omissions (and lies) that the mainstream press pushed repeatedly, over and over.

The continued focus on Miller (speculation) certainly is providing the rest of the mainstream media with a pass. Did Miller get Phil Donahue cancelled? Does she run MSNBC?

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber's Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Popaganda in Bush's War on Iraq is 204 pages of text. Judith Miller? Index lists her on one page (page 57).
The point? There's plenty of blame to spread around.

There seems to be, on the part of some, a belief that if Miller doesn't roll over then Patrick Fitzgerald doesn't have a case. The power of Judith Miller!

If Fitzgerald, after two years, can't make a case with or without Miller then that goes to Fitzgerald, not Miller.

There's also appears to be some belief that if only it weren't for Miller's reporting, we wouldn't be at war. Again, her outlet is the New York Times. If she's booked on a show, take it up with the show and the network and the host. And, as we've pointed out before, there's no NBC rule that if Dick Cheney waves around a piece by Judith Miller from the Times, Tim Russert has to fall silent.

The criticism of Miller's reporting (which I agree with) began before the invasion. There also exists pre-invasion criticism of others in the press. Henry Kissinger's pal Ted Koppel, for example. NPR and PBS, public broadcasting, didn't represent the public in their reporting. Colin Powell's presentation to the UN was demolished online the day he presented it. Any media outlets could have dealt with that. (Democracy Now! did deal with it.) But the mainstream media took a pass.

This war was sold to the people. (Rendon worked very hard for their paychecks.) But a large number of the ones responsible now get a pass as the focus becomes Judith Miller or the Times.
By all means, criticize their reporting (and how about tossing Dexter Filkins in there as well?) but this wasn't one reporter or one paper.

From Rampton & Stauber's Weapons of Mass Deception, pages 171-173:

In a speech in the Fall of 2002, U.S. senator Edward Kennedy "laid out what was arguably the most comprehensive case yet offered to the public questioning the Bush administration's policy and timing on Iraq," noted Michael Gelter, the Washington Post's ombudsman. "The next day, the Post devoted one sentence to the speech. Ironically, Kennedy made ample use in his remarks of the public testimony in Senate Armed Services Committee hearings a week earlier by retired four-star Army and Marine Corps generals who cautioned about attacking Iraq at this time -- hearing that the Post also did not cover. Last Saturday, antiwar rallies involving some 200,000 people in London and thousands more in Rome took place and nothing ran in the Sunday Post about them. [. . .]"
Peace groups attempted to purchase commercial time to broadcast ads for peace but were refused air time by all major networks and even MTV. (Some peace groups managed to partially circumvent the ban by buying local time for ads in major cities.) CBS network president Martin Franks explained the refusal by saying, "we think that informed dicussion comes from our news programming." MTV spokesman Graham James said, "We don't accept advocacy advertising because it really opens us up to accepting every point of view on every subject." While pundits from pro-war think tanks generally had ready access to talk shows, it took mass protests of millions of people worldwide on February 15, 2003, before broadcasters gave more than cursory attention to the existence of a large, grassroots peace movement. Even then, coverage consisted of crowd shots and images of people waving banners, with little attempt to present the actual reasoning and arguments put forward by war opponents.

From Peter Phillips & Project Censored' Censored 2004, let's note Norman Solomon's "Media Fog of War" (pages 249-250):

For the most part, major U.S. networks sanitized their war coverage. As always, the enthusiasm for war was rabid on Fox News Channel. After a pre-war makeover, the fashion was the same for MSNBC. At the other end of the narrow cable-news spectrum, CNN cranked up its own militaristic fervor.
There were instances of exceptional journalism in the mainstream U.S. press. Some news magazines provided a number of grisly pictures. A few reporters, notably Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post and Ian Fisher of The New York Times, wrote vivid accounts of what the Pentagon's firepower did to Iraqi people on the ground; only a closed heart could be unmoved by those stories. But our country remained largely numbed.
[. . .]
Millions of Americans tune into NPR News. During the war, that public radio network carried the reporting of correspondent Anne Garrels, who provided some outstanding eyewitness accounts from Baghdad -- but her exceptional reports were hardly indicative of NPR's overall coverage, heavily dominated by reliance on an array of U.S. government sources, claims, and assumptions. (Day by day, the contrast to the audibly more independent approach of the BBC World Service was striking.) NPR has its own style of numbing.

Miller's reporting isn't something I defend or excuse. Ron doesn't either. And I'm not trying to suggest that people can't genuinely feel that Miller needs to come forward with her source or sources. I disagree with FAIR on that (as I've noted before) but they have a strong argument that I do respect.

As for the "put Keller in prison!" set, people are going to write whatever they want. And they should. But if what they're advocating in this situation is carried out into other situations, I wonder what their stance will be then?

Miller being turned into a punch line really doesn't bother me. Miller being held accountable for her own writing doesn't bother me. But I do wonder if the continued focus, exclusively on Miller, means that a number of people are going to get off with a pass?

Miller wasn't an exception. She wasn't even unique. She ran with the pack. (And then some. Benador Associates, anyone?) Bob Woodward is a worthy target but maybe the desire to get behind Bush at War prevents him from being a target? Even his dismissals of the Plame outing didn't turn him into the sort of target of ridicule his reporting (or "reporting") would seem to warrent. Woody's far from alone.

If someone wants Bill Keller in prison (or Howell Raines), they should say so. They don't have to justify it with a reason if they don't wish to. The concern on my part is that (besides the uninformed mistakes re: Miller's strategy) a lot of people are getting a pass as the hammers and nails are brought out and Miller's the only focus (or the Times). Day after day, all Miller, all the time. A lot of reporters and "reporters" must feel very good to know that they're off the hook. They shouldn't be.

From American Journalism Review, Rem Rieder "In Praise of Judith Miller:"

Forget Ahmed Chalabi and all of those off-target stories about Saddam's WMD. When crunch time came, Miller hung tough.
Not for her the cave-in of Time Inc. honcho Norm Pearlstine, who gave up Time reporter Matt Cooper's notes. Not for her the last-minute "waiver" route that Cooper took in deciding to testify before the grand jury investigating who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
The New York Times reporter had promised a source confidentiality. And that was that. If the choice was breaking that promise or going to jail, the slammer was Miller's only option.
Anonymous sources have had their ups and downs, and right now attacking them is about as risky as badmouthing al Qaeda. But let's not lose sight of the fact that, used properly, they are very important weapons in the journalistic arsenal.
The most obvious instance is in the case of whistleblowers who alert journalists to situations that harm the public, but who fear reprisals if they talk on the record. The unmasking of Deep Throat was a vivid reminder of just how valuable these shadowy figures can be.
But they are also critical in covering the intelligence community, or private companies, or even the government. People are often much more candid when they have the protection of anonymity.
Have unidentified sources been radically overused in recent years? Yes. Are the efforts by many news organizations to rein them in worthwhile? Of course.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.