Sunday, October 23, 2005

Liberals Without Gumption In The War On Terror Are Jumping All Over Judy Miller

Eugene McCarthy, whose campaign for the Presidency I covered back in 1968, used to say, "Reporters are like birds on a telephone pole. When one flies away, they all fly away. When one comes back, they all come back."

We're seeing that phenomenon right now in the rush by the liberal press to jump on Judy Miller.

Suddenly, this prize-winning reporter, one of the few experts in the American press on biological warfare and other weapons of mass destruction, a woman who went to jail for 85 days rather than sell out on the her principles, is labeled as some kind of a fanatic.

She works too hard, we learn from L.A. Times media correspondent Jim Rainey, today. She was used by her sources, contends Tim Rutten, the LAT's media columnist, despite the fact that she never actually wrote about what Scooter Libby told her about Valerie Plame. What do the critics really not like about her? I suspect it's actually that she had sources in the Bush Administration that most Washington reporters don't even try to get, even though, as Tim points out, you do have to be careful with those sources.

And Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, says Miller "may not" have been truthful about the full content of her discussions with Libby in talking to the NYT's Washington bureau chief. I wonder how long the bureau chief, Phil Taubman, talked to Miller about Libby once they had decided not to do a story about what he was saying.

They have a great habit at the New York Times these days of mea culpas. It cost the former distinguished executive editor, Howell Raines, his job. And now we have Keller falling all over himself to show how understanding he is once the liberals on the staff start complaining about Miller's work.

It is astonishing to me though how so many members of the press are ready to give up on the need for confidential sources in the news business, along with all the dangers that that need brings. At least in his column Saturday, Rutten acknowledged the importance of those sources. He was just too quick in my view to throw Miller over the side.

It was Harrison Salisbury, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who once remarked that one of the lessons he had learned in working for the New York Times was that reporters had to be careful in conveying the full truth in their reports. Often, he said, in New York they just couldn't face the truth.

Just like Henry Luce at Time, Inc. in World War II. When Theodore H. White wrote that Chiang Kai-shek was corrupt and the Communists might come to power in China, Luce got rid of White. He didn't come back as one of the most honored Time, Inc. employees for years after that, well after, surprise, the Communists had come to power.

So now we have difficult times in the world. Fundamentalist adherents of an often- barbaric religion are rebelling all over the place, and just like the appeasers who thought they could buy Hitler off if only they gave him some of what he wanted, the liberal press wants to be understanding. They don't want to listen to the Judy Millers, who think the threat is a dire one that may require war.

Is Miller perfect? Hell, no. Most talented investigative reporters aren't. They make mistakes. That's why they are often subject to editing. The L.A. Times reined in investigative reporting of the L.A. Police Department when John Carroll became editor. (but in that case, I happen to know, Tim Rutten wasn't too happy. He happened to be a better editor than Carroll).

Right now, there IS a feeding frenzy against Miller, and, for all I know, she may be forced to leave the New York Times, like White was cast out from Time, Inc. After all, she works too hard.

But the war with terrorists who would destroy this country if they could is going to go on. Even the understanding press may find out one of these days that a choice must be made between fighting and giving in. I hope then that Judy Miller will still be somewhere, fighting. She may even be honored when that day comes at the NYT and LAT.


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