By: Dave Astor
Sources are at the heart of the Valerie Plame case. Sources are also a big part of Arianna Huffington’s series of blog postings — on HuffingtonPost.com — about what she sees as New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s less-than-heroic role in “Plamegate.”
Huffington said her sources include journalists, social acquaintances of Miller’s, general readers of the Huffington Post, and others. “But perhaps the most important category [of sources] is very serious, very responsible reporters within The New York Times who are worried about the paper linking itself so completely with Miller’s fate,” Huffington told E&P Online.
She also said “the mainstream media are having a hard time — or are just uninterested in — following the thread that the Miller story isn’t just about the outing of Valerie Plame but about the misinformation campaign that led us into the Iraq debacle.”
Plame, of course, was the undercover CIA operative outed in a Robert Novak column after Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, questioned the Bush administration’s rationale for invading Iraq. The July 27 opening salvo in Huffington’s “Judy File” series of postings summarized what some Times people think (according to Huffington) is one possible “scenario” explaining Miller’s involvement in Plamegate.
“It’s July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson’s now famous Op-Ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has ‘manipulate[d]’ and ‘twisted’ intelligence ‘to exaggerate the Iraqi threat,'” wrote Huffington, who also does a column syndicated by Tribune Media Services (TMS). “Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war — and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller’s credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he’s married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby. … Maybe Miller tells Rove too — or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and [Matt] Cooper. The story gets out.”
On Monday, appearing on the Lou Dobbs show on CNN, Miller’s attorney, Floyd Abrams, fired back at Huffington, calling her charges that Miller may be covering up her own active involvement in the Plame scandal “preposterous.” He declared that what Huffington “is concerned about, what she dislikes Judy Miller for, is not this, but earlier reporting she did on weapons of mass destruction. And because of that reporting, she refuses to give her the credit for acting out of the principle that animates her.”
If the scenario Huffington wrote about has validity, why has much of the mainstream media portrayed Miller as heroic rather than compromised? And why has the Times stood by Miller, even before her jailing?
Answering the first question, Huffington told E&P Online: “The Judy-as-First Amendment-hero angle is the easy first response to the story. It’s the conventional wisdom — and the mainstream media like nothing better than going with the flow of the ‘CW.’ It’s also the path of least resistance. … Just hit the hot key on your computer and out pops the jailed-journalist-as-martyr story. It’s much harder to swim against the current, to rethink, to reexamine, to reopen closed doors. And you risk stepping on toes — maybe even the toes of people you socialize with.”
Huffington added that this all means “a lot of distinctions aren’t being drawn. For instance, as I posted yesterday, the Times’ own ethical guidelines draw a clear distinction between protecting a source and granting anonymity to a source ‘as cover for a personal or partisan attack.’ Which, no matter what role you believe Judy Miller played, was clearly what happened in Plamegate. Then there is the distinction between safeguarding a whistleblower who helps unmask a powerful institution and safeguarding an illegal government leaker out to smear someone’s reputation for political gain — as happened in this case.”?
And, Huffington continued, “you really cannot separate the extent to which Miller’s weapons-of-mass-destruction reporting played a part in backing the neocon agenda from the way in which her actions in the Plame affair are effectively protecting her neocon sources. The Plame scandal is not a separate issue from Miller’s WMD reporting. Indeed, it occurred as part of her WMD reporting” — which Huffington called “deeply flawed.”
So why is the Times backing Miller? “That’s the $64,000 question that, without exception, all my sources connected to The New York Times — both those still at the paper and those no longer there — are asking,” replied Huffington. “The consensus is that Miller always played by different rules than other reporters. …”
She added: “Don’t forget the paper stuck with her even as her reporting on Iraq and WMD was being discredited. Indeed, when the paper ran its unprecedented editorial mea culpa in May 2004, her name was never mentioned — even though she had penned four of the six articles that the paper was apologizing for.”
Huffington did say that “if it wasn’t for Plamegate, Miller’s role at the paper would have been greatly diminished. But once the [Patrick] Fitzgerald investigation heated up, the Times felt it couldn’t cut her loose at that point.”
This Monday, the “Judy File” series also included the fascinating rumor — still unconfirmed — that controversial United Nations ambassador John Bolton may have visited Miller in prison.
The Huffington Post site, which started in May, offers links to news stories as well as blog entries by approximately 300 celebrities from the worlds of politics and entertainment. TMS plans to syndicate selections from the site starting the week of Sept. 12 (E&P Online, July 27).