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Saturday, October 15, 2005

titanic and iceberg

The Titanic has hit an iceberg.

Judith Miller and her lawyers, in concocting this self-serving excercise in elision and obfuscation, and the editors of the New York Times, in delivering it to their readers, have sent a clear message to the broader public: find a life raft, quick.

A newspaper has no higher obligation to its readers than the timely reporting of the truth. The New York Times just officially said goodbye to all that. Whether we look at Miller's hiding behing her notes, her hiding of her notes, her obfuscation of her sources even as she purported to reveal one, or that misspelled name...Valerie Flame...written on a note pad, but, essentially, according to Miller, signifying nothing...there could hardly be a more sordid or less satisfying outcome to the "paper of record" coming clean. If this is the best they have to offer, and indeed, that seems to be the case, their readers shouldn't be the only ones looking to the life boats.

  • "the notes"

  • Typically, a reporter's notes form the backbone of his or her reporting. Journalists investigate, they report...and the first step of that process is inquiry and the gathering of information, in the form of notes and recordings, to be considered for the public record. That's all been turned on its head.

    Judith Miller, who we must assume hid some of these notes from Patrick Fitzgerald, is now, in turn, hiding behind them and playing an elaborate charade of memory games around them. Her notes, rather than serving her memory, now have a mysterious power over the suddenly senile reporter who wrote them:

    "My notes indicate that well before Mr. Wilson published his critique, Mr. Libby told me that Mr. Wilson's wife may have worked on unconventional weapons at the C.I.A.

    My notes do not show that Mr. Libby identified Mr. Wilson's wife by name. Nor do they show that he described Valerie Wilson as a covert agent or "operative," as the conservative columnist Robert D. Novak first described her in a syndicated column published on July 14, 2003

    And this passage later in the piece:

    "And as I told the grand jury, I did not recall - and my interview notes do not show - that Mr. Libby suggested that Ms. Plame had helped arrange her husband's trip to Niger. My notes do suggest that our conversation about Ms. Plame was brief."

    These passages represent a low point in journalism at the New York Times. I doubt that Miller alone wrote them. They are pure legalese. They read like the work of an attorney, and surely were vetted or reworded by one. What they mean, in no uncertain terms, is that Judith Miller's candor with the reading public will be limited strictly to written evidence, or testimony about it, that has been presented before a grand jury and vetted by her lawyers, no more, and no less...even to the point of straining credulity:

    "It is also difficult, more than two years later, to parse the meaning and context of phrases, of underlining and of parentheses. On one page of my interview notes, for example, I wrote the name "Valerie Flame." Yet, as I told Mr. Fitzgerald, I simply could not recall where that came from, when I wrote it or why the name was misspelled."

    She wrote those notes, She did that reporting. She would have known, the moment Robert Novak's article appeared, and certainly after David Corn speculated about the legal issues involved, exactly how important those notes would be. But that means nothing here. Judith Miller has essentially "forgotten" everything about this story that isn't in her notes. How convenient for her and whatever agenda she serves. How inconvenient for her readers and the truth...and how significant for our judgments of the course of action chosen by the New York Times these last years.

  • the "sources"

  • Ms. Miller has always been clear that "protecting her sources" was her paramount concern. We've been given no information to make a good judgment about that. She may simply be protecting herself and her own interests. (Just as we now learn Bill Keller protected Miller and her source from New York Times reporters investigating this story.) Upon Miller's release from prison, the NYT reported crisply:

    "Ms. Miller said she believed the agreement between her lawyers and Mr. Fitzgerald "satisfies my obligation as a reporter to keep faith with my sources." She added: "I went to jail to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. I chose to take the consequences - 85 days in prison - rather than violate that promise. The principle was more important to uphold than my personal freedom. "

    We are being asked to believe both that Miller "forgot" the existence of some critical notes...including those that mention Plame...and then, once compelled to testify about those notes in her second trip to the grand jury, that Miller "forgot" who was the source of that name in the first place. We're being asked to believe this even though Miller had been using the rationale of "protecting her source" with the legal system and her editors all along, and, as we are told, had conveyed that name to her editor and lawyer. That's more than extremely convenient, it defies common sense.

    Not only does the phrase "I can't recall" represent classic legal weasel words...(and not words we are used to hearing repeatedly from New York Times reporters discussing a major story)...but, essentially, Judith Miller is saying she went to jail to protect a source whose name she now effectively chooses not to remember.

    Of course, Scooter Libby could easily be both Miller's source for Valerie Plame's name and the person she named as her own source to her lawyer and editor. It could also be someone else. We don't know. And from today's reporting, unlike Matthew Cooper's straightforward account, we can't know. That seems to be a situation the New York Times is resigned to leaving us with. That is deeply troubling and at the core of this story.

    Judith Miller's account of her testimony reads as simply the legal limits of her obligation to tell the truth to a grand jury empanelled to decide if crimes where committed by members of our government. The New York Times, in allowing Miller to merely repeat this limited strategy, in effect, has endorsed it. That endorsement means, in my view, that the New York Times is vouching for the "properness" of protecting Miller's sources and Miller herself...currently a very questionable and troubling proposition. What if Bolton or Cheney or Hadley or Libby is shown to have been gaming the system and to have been a source of Millers? (Judith Milller certainly indicates that Libby was attempting to do just that.)

    Reading these two articles, we have no clearer picture of Judith Miller, her testimony, and her sources than we did going in. In fact, I would argue, in some ways we know less. (The Times did not even report on the biggest internal story here...the discovery of the notebook with Plame's name, and the motivation of Miller's second go round of testimony.) The waters have been muddied, perhaps deliberately so, and no amount of "extra" information makes up for that extraordinary lack of frankness and clarity. That's not reporting, and it's not the journalism we deserve from the Times.

    In essence, Miller is now herself more of a discredited source in this story...a player in it with her own motivations and defense counsel...than she is a journalist worthy of our trust. It is not at all clear that the New York Times is currently equipped to deal with that. Common sense tell us that ethical journalists should have nothing to hide, even from sources intent on gaming the system. That is not the terrain we are operating on here.

  • "Valerie Flame"

  • "Mr. Fitzgerald asked me about another entry in my notebook, where I had written the words "Valerie Flame," clearly a reference to Ms. Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald wanted to know whether the entry was based on my conversations with Mr. Libby. I said I didn't think so. I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall.

    Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I could recall discussing the Wilson-Plame connection with other sources. I said I had, though I could not recall any by name or when those conversations occurred."

    I've reread the passage where this occurs in Miller's account...it is listed beneath the heading "The Second Libby Meeting"...but is not clearly placed on July 8th. Greg Mitchell's E+P article, linked above, notes that the name was in the notes that were "discovered" later, and that the date of her making that note is not clear at all.

    It occurs to me that that misspelled name will be quite important going forward. It stands out. Just as "the notes" have become this fetishized agent of history independent of their author's failing memory...I think what the notes will boil down to is that scribbled name. Not "Wilson's wife" or "Wife works and Winpac"...but Valerie Flame. That stands out.

    Intelligent people do all sorts of things. Sometimes the smartest folks come to rely on their wits and brain power to get them out of fixes. Scribble this....fail to recall that. Now, this brilliant woman who was the top reporter for one the great newspapers of the world is forgetting more than Ronald Reagan during Iran Contra when he'd begun to enter the fog of Alzheimer's.

    That doesn't cut it. (Even so, seeing that name on the page must give a rapid heartbeat. Would Judith Miller pass a lie detector test?...I doubt it.) You see, if we go back to the dates in question, she is asking us to believe that when Novak's article appeared mentioning Valerie Plame on July 14th that she didn't look at her notes from...that week..or, at the most, two weeks earlier? Right.

    There's much to write about this sordid episode. (Including the mention, again, of the Vice President here.) One thing that occurs to me is that Special Prosecutors are not in the business of pursuing the conduct of the fourth estate. Even if Judith Miller lied her ass off, it's not really the business of the law to investigate reporters doing their job. The special prosecutor's duty is to ascertain if crimes were committed by our government. The Judith Miller affair is something that's between the New York Times and its readers.

    The sound you hear. Of metal bending and creaking...of water flooding into the steerage...is the sound of something unsinkable foundering...and the unthinkable...that the New York Times would be played like a Times Square mark in a game of three-card monte ...repeatedly...is there for all the world to see. Judith Miller's article is a disgrace. The fact that no one at the Times had the ability to call her on that directly is even more disgraceful.

    All bets are off. This is the best the New York Times had to offer.

    Judith Miller is a con. The NYT, in addition to being her mark, got played to be her shill, apparently, without even knowing it.

    If you ask me, that metallic groan you hear tonight is the sound of the Titanic struggling in deep water.

    The iceberg, now visible as merely the Miller brouhaha, is that much larger, and more important, story...of Iraq, WMD, the Plame leak, the dealings of the White House Iraq Group and their possible involvement in a cover up...a story that the New York Times has lost all credibility in covering.



    • This is Judith Miller sticking it to the Times. She wasn't going to give them anything more than the absolute minimum.

      Strictly name, rank and serial number. We don't know if this is indeed what she told Fitz, but it's what she was going to give the Gray Lady...

      And now she walks away.


      By Blogger NYBri, at 5:36 PM  

    • Key point I think, is this: "she is asking us to believe that when Novak's article appeared mentioning Valerie Plame that she didn't look at her notes from what...that week..or, at the most, two weeks earlier? Right."

      Great point. I hope this gets into the "meme" framing this article -- and that someone asks JM about this.

      By Blogger awol, at 6:27 PM  

    • That "Judy, It's Scooter Libby" thing at the end is just freakin' bizarre. What function is that little vignette intended to serve? It's rhetorically jarring, since it ends a (supposedly) "just the facts" monotone account of her testimony with a strangely elliptical and feature-storyish quote (the way so many NYTimes feature articles end with a little wry, resonant quote from somebody that is intended to sum up the tone and thematics and implications of the piece). Are we supposed to believe she didn't actually remember who Libby was, thus giving credence to the wall of amnesia she erects around herself in the piece? That's clearly the rhetorical implication: "I had no idea who he was." But she also takes legalistic pains to say that he was wearing sunglasses and hat and whatnot, subtly acknowledging that the real reason she didn't recognize him was because of his unfamiliar and identity-concealing outfit. How much you wanna bet that her real-life response to Libby in Wyo was something like "Scooter! What are you doing here? I didn't recognize you under those sunglasses and ridiculous hat..." And then got down to dishing dirt about whatever scam she was running at the time. But instead she leaves us with this melodramatic scene of non-recognition: Scooter who? This article is fascinating in its slimy craft.

      Just another random thought: What was Judy doing in Wyoming? Where was Cheney in August 2003? I wonder if he was on vacation in his home state of, um... Wyoming? Libby's presence certainly suggests the proximity of Cheney. Which puts this interestingly worded piece of prose in a suggestive light:

      "Before the grand jury, Mr. Fitzgerald asked me questions about Mr. Cheney. He asked, for example, if Mr. Libby ever indicated whether Mr. Cheney had approved of his interviews with me or was aware of them. The answer was no."

      Since we also know that Fitzgerald was only allowed to ask her about her conversations with Libby, can we (with tinfoil hat on) speculate that Cheney was also a possible source? She never actually says she never spoke with Cheney, and Fitz couldn't ask her. Maybe somebody else should.

      By Blogger wg, at 7:00 PM  

    • The more you unpack this thing the slimier it is.

      "The answer was no." Passive voice. Ugh.

      I also think the numerous attempts to malign Wilson and the CIA...the personalizing of LIbby's anger...and his "friendly cowboy"guise...are huge distractions...much like Miller's WMD work.

      She is a foul figure.

      I think your Wyoming line, Wendell, is most spot on. I haven't yet read someone taking aspens...out West..and making Cheney a part of it ... but. there you go...you just did, wg...and threw in the rodeo to boot.

      That the NYT let Miller muddy the waters like this is reprehensible.

      I am thinking that there are other shoes that will drop. Someone with information has got to be getting disgusted with all this.

      I still think that if Fitzgerald is "true" he could give a hoot about Miller and see how counterproductive going after her would be.

      (PS. I also think that the writing about Niger and going back to the issue of the forgeries is vital. That has to be covered. More and more.)

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 7:09 PM  

    • This is a must read piece on this.

      Also, check out the thread on firedoglake.

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 7:23 PM  


      And when the prosecutor in the case asked her to explain how "Valerie Flame" appeared in the same notebook she used in interviewing Mr. Libby, Ms. Miller said she "didn't think" she heard it from him. "I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall," she wrote on Friday, recounting her testimony for an article that appears today.

      Questions one wants to ask:
      1. Does JM have specific notebooks for specific interviews?
      2. Is there any other non-Libby related stuff in this notebook?
      3. If so, is this other material sourced?
      4. Would she normally include more information in a notebook without any sources?
      5. Why won't she allow editors or journalists at the Times to see this notebook?
      6. KO'S question -- Did she confer in this notebook after Novak wrote his column? If not, WTF not??

      By Blogger awol, at 7:37 PM  

    • re: awol

      Good questions.

      Hunter echoes something you told me..that Libby is clearly in greater legal jeopardy on its face. Especially on a read through of the NYT pool piece. (And that Fitz was asking questions about Cheney, which would be a major story in its own right if not for the distractions.)

      What's weird to me is this question who knew her source(s) name(s). Miller's lawyer went to great lengths to convince Fitzgerald that Libby was the one she was protecting...and hence Fitz pressured Libby to release Miller.

      The NYT went to the wall on the "protecting sources" thing. And here they are bombing Libby, not just with their reporting..but with bad reporting.

      I wonder how this piece plays into White House strategies.

      Muddy the waters will be the mode of the day is my bet.

      So much depends on the special prosecutor.

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 7:46 PM  

    • I think we need to be very clear: Miller writing "Valerie Flame" in a specific notebook, then testifying under oath that it wasn't something that Libby told her, and saying she can't remember who told her this or how she learned it.

      That's the story.

      This is not a question of protecting a source. Miller had the right to say, either to us or the grand jury, I won't say who told me this. Instead, she is either:
      1. Lying -- both to the grand jury *and* to the NY Times readers
      2. Playing an elaborate game -- where we are supposed to infer that she does know who the source is, but pretends not to
      3. Admitting that she is a grossly negligent reporter -- in the sense that she can't or didn't source her own notes on a matter of the utmost importance. This from someone who already has acknowledged purveying extremely bad information, about WMD, from anonymous sources.

      Needless to say, all of these cases lead to obvious follow-up questions that Miller should be asked by the Times.

      By Blogger awol, at 7:57 PM  

    • Well whaddya know. Cheney's vacation home just happens to be (according this recent Froomkin piece) "outside scenic Jackson, Wyo."

      Miller: "I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo."

      Jackson Hole is, according to Googlemaps (I don't get out to Wyoming much) "just outside scenic Jackson." So why was Judy going to Jackson after her "national security" conference? She doesn't say it was for vacation, though she wants to give that impression with the anecdote about going to a rodeo.

      And wouldn't you know? According to this website (which tracks "liberal media bias," chuckle), CBS news reported that Cheney was on vacation in Wyoming on August 15, 2003. And all the speeches Cheney gave in Aug 2003 were in out-west places like New Mexico and Montana. What are the odds that Libby just happened to be vacationing in Jackson Hole at the same time as his boss?

      Now I'm wondering if Miller is playing an even higher-stakes game by choosing to tell that Libby anecdote. Is it a signal (of solidarity or threat, I can't tell) to Cheney (or conceivably Fitz) that she has "Veep" by the b*lls?

      Wheels within wheels...

      By Blogger wg, at 8:04 PM  

    • We have Libby's motivation in this affair -- revenge on Wilson--but we're still missing Miller's deeper motivation. I feel sure she's protecting some other badder secret that Fitzgerald's gotten close to. She doesn't feel anything like a journalist to me. (and I'm a former NYT reporter) Her instincts are all misplaced...

      By Blogger girlinthelockerroom, at 8:33 PM  

    • I broke down and diaried my Miller/Cheney tinfoilhattery. I feel so dirty...

      By Blogger wg, at 9:26 PM  

    • Dirty? Lol, you shouldn't feel that way.

      That was a good insight. And it was buried here.

      Let it out there! (Hell, Cartel is getting search hits on Judith Miller tonight too!)

      Thanks for posting here, wg..and for the link.


      By Blogger kid oakland, at 11:00 PM  

    • Find a lifeboat or start planning a party ?

      Because if the sound I hear is from the SS Neocon sinking I'm going to party!

      By Blogger lawnorder, at 2:30 AM  

    • Marshall nails the "former Hill staffer" part. The huge difference between intentionally vague and intentionally misleading attributions for an anonymous source.

      Shorter Marshall: Vague and vaguely accurate, OK. Misleading and technically accurate, very very very bad.

      By Blogger awol, at 2:53 AM  

    • re: lawnorder

      I think you have the right focus!

      There's something really, really deep about the relationship you can get with the NYT...

      (Hell, now that I think of it, I've worked for them in a photographic capacity many times....(assisting and scouting on magazine shoots)...and always aspired to work more...)

      that just creates this intense feeling of loyalty and betrayal in the reader. They're the NYT goddamnit!!

      re: awol

      Yes, atrios and JMM have kept pointing that up as e exceptional...and Greg Mitchell and Jay Rosen did too.

      Apparently, that is a key "admission" that just sends off huge alarm bells....

      I still think the "I can't recall" stuff will no hold water...given what we've been discussing.

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 4:43 AM  

    • The New York Times had hit an iceberg long before the Titanic. It is the paradigm for a generally corrupt and sycophantic press. It's odd that some people on the so called "left" have just discovered that. I guess its hard to give up one’s own mythologies. When one approaches reading any piece with the assumption that it's just going to be a pack of lies, one can glean more truth from it and one does not become as disappointed.

      Corruption is endemic in the US, and the carousel of crime, corruption, and psychoses will go on long after the Judith Miller, Plame, Iraq, WMD, stuff is forgotten.

      By Anonymous Old Yeller, at 10:09 AM  

    • I totally agree it's huge that the NYT was conned, used just like the religious right. I mean, it is the NYT! It kind of reminds me of what they did to Dan Rather. There's some undercurrent of revenge against what they'd call "liberal" news outlets. It also serves the political purpose of undercutting the credibility of sources who have disagreed with them over time.

      I'm afraid you're right about muddying the waters, too. When the indictments come down bushco shills are going to be screaming so loudly the big picture -- just how bad to the bone these people are -- will be lost.

      Thanks for the great read. Loved this: "forgetting more than Ronald Reagan during Iran Contra when he'd begun to enter the fog of Alzheimer's." LOL!

      By Anonymous cotterperson, at 10:20 AM  

    • The Times piece was frustrating, but what really got to me were the commentators on the Sunday morning news shows--including Joe Klein! I don't think I'm naive, but I can't get past the cognitive dissonance entailed in comparing Fitzgerald to Starr, Rove/Libby's outing of a CIA agent to an extramarital affair. There's a huge difference between the consequences of a sexual indiscretion and the underhanded quelling of dissent around a decision that ultimately cost thousands of lives. It's irresponsible to say, as was said ad nauseum on This Week's roundtable, that administrations leak classified information all the time. This leaking of classified information is intricately tied in to our most deadly foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.

      By Blogger Myshkin, at 10:25 AM  

    • Re: you initial comment that Miller would have had to review her notes "that week..or, at the most, two weeks earlier" -- same point pushed, via TPM, by Kevin Drum.

      By Blogger awol, at 7:40 PM  

    • I saw that. It's funny how that works....it's just common sense really.

      My bet now:

      a) there is a news story independent of Fitzgerald ready to break somewhere...and...

      b) the deadline is being played by Fitzgerald because all of this is very much in play. (witness Miller piece which raises more questions than it answers, including what the terms of her testimony was.

      Fitz may extend. If he does, I doubt it will be a "silent" extension. There will be something from Fitzgerald "for the record."

      We are in for a big two weeks. It may not go how any of us are thinking however.

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 8:06 PM  

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