On Lecture Circuit, Judith Miller and David Brooks Explore Media’s Myriad Problems

By: Jay DeFoore

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail last summer for refusing to reveal her source in the leaking of a CIA agent’s identity, was greeted warmly Sunday at a talk she gave to the American Friends of Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Palm Beach, Fla.

Miller and Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks addressed the audience on the topic of “The Reporter’s Privilege Under Siege.”

Area newspapers, including the Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and Palm Beach Daily News, all had accounts of the talk in today’s editions.

The Daily News assessment led with the charge, attributed to Miller, that “journalism is under attack by a government interested in tightly controlling information — and is being weakened by complacency in the profession.”

Buttressing her call for a federal shield law for reporters, Miller said that, “there is a full-scale assault by the federal government now on journalists in order to get to people who disclose classified information without authorization. ? Unless you have people who disagree with government policy who work for the government come forward, we will be getting only the information that the government wants us to have,” Miller was quoted as saying in the Daily News. “That’s authorized news. That’s not a free and independent press.”

When talk turned to her pre-war reporting on WMD, which some argue helped win public support for the war in Iraq, Miller acknowledged that her stories were wrong but added, “journalists get things wrong every day.”

The Palm Beach Post reported Miller’s conviction that the press has not done a serious job of following up on those initial WMD stories. The paper indicates that Miller would like the media to seriously address why government intelligence was wrong and whether facts detrimental to the Bush administration’s case for war were omitted.

“It’s a lot easier to beat up on Judy Miller than go after that question,” the Post quoted her as saying.

Another detail Miller revealed was that the Times spent $1.7 million ? slightly higher than earlier media estimates — on legal bills to defend her against testifying in front of the CIA leak investigation headed by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Miller eventually testified in the case, a decision that led not only to the eventual criminal indictments against former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, but also to Miller’s departure from the newspaper she called home for nearly three decades.

As for Brooks’ part in the talks, the three papers all quote his analysis on how and why journalism has run afoul of the masses.

The Sun-Sentinel said Brooks diagnosed the media’s problems as stemming from the “highly affluent, highly educated cultural ghetto” it operates in that has alienated it from large segments of the population.

Indicating perhaps the art of journalism rather than the science, the three papers all had slightly different versions of Brooks’ critical quote. But all three managed to get across Brooks’ point that we’re living in a customer-oriented news environment where readers can pick and choose outlets that parrot their views and values.

Palm Beach Daily News: “People want reality that tells them how right they are all the time.”

Palm Beach Post: “Increasingly, people choose the outlets that give them the reality that they want.”

Sun-Sentinel: “People want a reality that tells them they’re right all of the time.”

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