Monday, October 17, 2005

The New York Times Was Right To Defend Judith Miller

At the end of a monumental New York Times article, Sunday, Oct. 16, doing the paper's best to elucidate on the issues of the Judith Miller case, Bill Keller, the paper's executive editor, said he felt it was up to others, not to him, to judge for themselves on the issues raised.

There seems to be considerable feeling among liberals, which include some reporters on the NYT's own staff, who do not sympathize with Miller and do not appreciate why the paper had to defend her, at a cost of millions of dollars.

The reason for the lack of sympathy with Miller in these quarters is a feeling that she allowed herself to be a shill for the Bush Administration in reporting on the issue of exotic weapons, that she was used in justifying the war in Iraq.

I will state plainly here and now that I don't share these views. I feel it was Miller's duty to pursue the exotic weapons story as she did, seeking understanding by going to the highest sources she could find in the government. The proliferation of these weapons is one of the most important stories of our time.

If these sources were wrong about whether Saddam's Iraq had such weapons at the time of Gulf War II, or had their own agenda, that still did not mean Miller was derelict. She was doing the best she could. (And, just between you and me, I'm not ready yet to concede Saddam Hussein had no exotic weapons, even though none were later found. My own feeling is that these weapons may yet surface, and be used against our troops).

In any event, whether Miller was a good reporter or a bad reporter, once she was charged with keeping her sources confidential, I feel she was right in going to jail in defense of this principle, and that Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and other executives at the New York Times, were right in expending the paper's resources in defending her. Without the right to keep sources confidential, the nation's press will be operating with its hands tied behind its back. It simply won' be able to do the job assigned it under the First Amendment, and the struggle to preserve its right to do that job is a crucially important one in our democracy. Hence, right or wrong about the exotic weapons in this particular case, Miller had to be supported on the general principle of protecting sources.

Until Vice President Cheney's aide, Lewis Libby, gave her explicit permission to speak, through his own words to Miller and not through his lawyer, I believe Miller was right in refusing to testify to the grand jury and refusing to name Libby as a source.

Now, there are things Miller still won't talk about, such as her exchanges with her editors. And Keller too is being somewhat circumspect. I think this is to defend the paper from those who would throw it over the side in this affair, and I continue to sympathize with their positions.

There was nothing in the Times story, or what has emerged elsewhere, that justifies viewing Miller as anything but a principled person. Whether, as was reported, she indeed is a difficult personality, sometimes hard for her colleagues to deal with, has nothing to do with the more fundamental issues we are dealing with in this instance, namely freedom of the press to report on everything it can find out about government and international affairs.

My view of Keller, Sulzberger, Miller and other principals in this matter, the newspaper's attorneys, etc., is only enhanced by what we now know. That there are a few nitpickers around, on the Times staff and others, more interested in making Miller a more perfect reporter and human being than in protecting sources cannot alter my opinion.

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