Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rainey, Scheer and Andres Martinez on Judy Miller, Three Peas In A Pod

The L.A. Times, always glad these days to dump on the New York Times, tried to deliver the triple whammy to the paper this week over the Judy Miller case.

Media correspondent Jim Rainey hasn't been sympathetic with Miller for some time. Bob Scheer never sides with the USA, and he knows that Miller arguably does. And Andres Martinez, the new editorial pages editor, is out to prove he can be just as ditzy as Michael Kinsley, who didn't stand up for a free press from the beginning.

But, we are told by Editor and Publisher, Miller even has her detractors in the New York Times City Room, where a sizable proportion of the staff has been in a blue funk ever since it succeeded in assassinating the career as executive editor of the noble Howell Raines.

What's going on here? To read the critics, many resent Miller because she thought for herself, didn't always follow orders and was nonetheless able to command the loyalty of the NYT publisher and the executive editor, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and Bill Keller.

Maybe, I've just been retired too long. At least in the days I was working reporters who didn't always follow orders were regarded as independent, distinguished journalists. They were prized in city rooms. Even the L.A. Times had a few.

Also, let's face it, these critics don't like the war. So, since Miller was trying her best to establish that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they resent her, because she had developed contacts in high places and seemed to be working to fortify George W. Bush, who the Raineys, the Scheers, the Martinezes, and much of the New York Times City Room detests.

But what all these folks have forgotten is that great constitutional cases frequently have as their protagonists ornery people, who push their rights. The best constitutional law thus sometimes is made by people who think for themselves and of course great judges and lawyers who haven't quite disappeared even now, even though they were overcome in this case. What we saw in this case, unfortunately, was bad constitutional law. The heroine was sent to jail and a free press was sacrificed.

The bottom line of the Miller-Plame-Libby-Rove affair still remains -- that confidential sources are essential, if the press is to perform public service adequately. Leaks are necessary, and if the leaks are shut off, the press won't be worth reading.

So, surprise folks, I'm going to stick with Miller, Keller and Sulzberger. I trust them to fight valiently for a free press. As long as they're around, America is going to have a fair chance to be a democracy.

And the Raineys, the Scheers, the Martinezes, the nitpickers in the NYT city room, the cowards at Time magazine, Pearlstine and Cooper, they can sell out the press and its rights all the want, but they're not going to destroy the New York Times or change my mind.

Just for the record, since someone has asked me in a comment, Jim Rainey never to my recollection edited any of my stories, and my relations with him were always quite good. Rainey has a Berkeley degree and so do I. But I have been disappointed by a few of his media articles.


Blogger Matt Weinstock said...

You are sorta bringing me around to your point of view.


10/19/2005 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golly, Ken, speaking of disclosure, don't you think you owe it to your readers to disclose the fact that Jim Rainey used to edit your stories and you might harbor a grudge against him?

10/20/2005 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then let me refresh your memory. Jim Rainey edited many of your stories in your final years at The Times. For example, all those 4-inch items on the umpteenth aftershock of the Landers quake. Ask him. I'll bet he remembers even if you don't.

10/20/2005 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honest to god, is there anyone who takes this blog seriously?

On this issue alone, the idea of source protection is an important and valid one -- and essential one, even. But the facts of this case demand serious consideration, not reflex.

This country has adopted laws that prohibit the disclosure of classified information. That, most people would agree, is a good thing. If reporters have a legal privilege to protect their sources under all circumstances, including those in which government officials have disclosed classified information, the effect will be that government officials can violate the law protecting classified material so long as the disclosure is to a journalist (however the law defines "journalist."). That's because the journalist, when questioned by authorities, will claim the privilege, and the source will take the 5th. Assuming there are not other witnesses, that's the end of the case.

That may be a price worth paying. On balance, such disclosures arguably have helped the country more than they've hurt it.

But it's a serious question with legitimate and serious people on both sides of it. It won't be solved with name-calling and posturing, which, as far as I can tell, are the only defining features of this site.

10/20/2005 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken - I worked with you at the L.A. Times and I would like to interview you for a survey we are doing on media blogs. Can you give me a call at 323-202-1032?

11/30/2005 8:27 AM  

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