Though New York Times reporter Judith Miller could be considered a hero of journalism for going to jail because she refused to reveal her sources, her prewar reporting was erroneous, and some of her statements about the leak incident make her seem like a loyalist to the Bush administration.Miller is an aggressive, prize-winning journalist, but her reporting before the war began about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities was wrong. Because Miller trusted poor sources, her credibility was tarnished and her reporting was untruthful.
Recently, Miller’s paper published a lengthy article about its prewar reporting and the CIA leak investigation. In the piece, the editors and journalists at The New York Times admitted that Miller’s prewar reporting was misleading.
In the article, which was published on Oct. 16, Roger Cohen, who was the foreign editor for the paper during Miller’s prewar reporting, said, “There was concern that [Miller had] been convinced in an unwarranted way, a way that was not holding up, of the possible existence of W.M.D.”
In the same article, Miller apologized for her own reporting. “W.M.D.-I got it totally wrong,” she said. “If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job I could.”
Yet the reporter’s apology is a bit late. Miller, like too many other journalists and politicians, sparked the notion that Iraq was a threat to the United States.
Americans were led to believe that Hussein had stockpiles of weapons, and the Bush administration used such claims to justify the war. Now troops are bogged down in a war that seems to have no purpose since Iraq did not have stockpiles of weapons.
Miller’s statements about the CIA leak debacle, which addresses the case for war, are also suspicious.
The reporter was jailed for 85 days because she refused to reveal where she obtained information about Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative whose identity was leaked to the press and first published in a column by Robert Novak.
Plame’s name was publicized after her husband, Joseph Wilson, published an article in The New York Times, which undercut the administration’s case for war, specifically that Hussein was trying to acquire material from Niger to make weapons.
During her testimonies about the leak, Miller claimed that she does not recall how the words “Valerie Flame” and “Victoria Wilson,” which are only different versions of Plame’s identity, appeared in her notebooks.
“Valerie Flame” appeared in the same notebook that Miller used to interview Lewis Libby on July 8, 2003, according to the explanation The New York Times released on Oct. 16 about the leak and Miller’s role.
Libby is Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff who was recently indicted on counts of obstruction of justice. Libby’s accused of making false statements and perjury. However,
Miller told her paper that the name appears in a different part of the notebook than her interview with Libby.
The paper’s explanation also stated that Miller talked to Libby again on July 12, 2003, and the name “Victoria Wilson” appears in the notes from that phone interview. However, Miller refused to reveal where the names came from.
If Miller knew that Plame’s identity was leaked to smear Joseph Wilson because he was a critic of the war, she should have said something because it shows how far administration officials would go to sell the war and hush dissent.
Because of Miller’s poor prewar reporting and her involvement with the leak investigation, her own staff has turned against her. One of the paper’s most popular columnists, Maureen Dowd, criticized her co-worker in a column published Oct. 22.
“Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, [Miller] was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers,” Dowd wrote.
The paper’s public editor, Byron Calame, also criticized Miller. “It seems to me whatever the limits put on her, the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the newspaper as a reporter,” he wrote in a column published Oct. 23.
Miller is anything but a martyr for journalism. Her prewar reporting was marked by several errors concerning Hussein’s weapons capabilities because she trusted poor sources and did not question the information. Because of her problematic reporting, the reputation of The New York Times suffered.
Also, her testimonies during the leak investigation only made it seem as though she is no First Amendment hero, but a loyalist to the administration who was protecting key officials inside the White House.
Brian Fanelli is a senior majoring in comparative literature with minors in creative writing and journalism.