Thursday, November 10, 2005

It's A Shame NYT Could Not Keep Judy Miller. They Will Need Her

How sad it is that Judy Miller has had to leave the New York Times. They're going to need her in the years to come.

We're just at the beginning stages of what is a world war between modern states and the barbarians of fundamentalist Islam, the people who think a perfectly acceptable way to wage war is to walk into a wedding party in Amman and blow everyone possible, men, women and children, to kingdom come, or to torch thousands of cars and other properties in France.

The press, unfortunately, is filled with staff members who have little understanding for or tolerance for war and all its disappointments and defeats. At the L.A. Times, for instance, this morning, in the lead story on the events in Jordan reluctance is displayed to even use terms like "terrorist" or "Muslim." The story refers to the bloody terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi as a "militant." The LAT, however, does have a few realists on its staff, like European correspondent Sebastian Rotella, who know what's happening and write honestly about it.

The New York Times, too, has a few fighters, and more than the L.A. Times a tradition of great war reporting. I'm thinking of Hanson Baldwin and Drew Middleton, great military writers of the past, and Howell Raines, who while he's liberal, was also a courageous executive editor in the wake of 9-11.

Judy Miller is also such a fighter. She may have made a few mistakes, but she knew what the stakes were. She was fascinated with the issue of exotic weapons that may, unfortunately, have yet a great deal to do with the War On Terror, and which parties finally win it.

Miller, like Raines, may have been overbearing, and, as I acknowledge, made some mistakes, but nothing that couldn't be corrected. In both their cases, there should have been adjustments, not terminations. Great talents that under the circumstances had to be adjusted, but still valuable to their institutions, not to be cast aside in the midst of the crisis because of a few lily livered critics on the staff.

Winston Churchill, as Lloyd George once said, had 100 ideas every day and two or three of them were good. The British government kept putting Churchill out to pasture in the political wilderness, especially after the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign of 1915 when he had to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty. But when World War II started, even the appeasement champion Neville Chamberlain brought Churchill back as First Lord. "Winston is back," was the signal sent to the Royal Navy. Later, of course, when Hitler invaded the Low Countries and France, on May 10, 1940 and Britain was up against it, that same day, Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became Prime Minister.

Years later, when the old man used to go down to his school for homecoming, the boys would sing a special stanza of the school song, "Twenty, Thirty and Forty Years On." This was entitled "Sixty Years On," and it went like this: "Sixty years on, though growing older and older, younger at heart you return to the Hill. You who in days of defeat ever bolder, led us to victory, serve Britain still. Still there are bases to guard and beleaguer. Still must the battle for freedom be won. Long may you fight, sir, who fearless and eager, look back today more than 60 years on."

Well, I daresay, that Judy Miller's career will continue. She knows more about some of the weapons than nearly anybody. She is dedicated, a true believer. One day, when they need her, the New York Times may call her back.

The press as a whole, in free countries, must gird up their loins, because we are, as Time magazine said on Dec. 7, 1941, "in a time of trouble."

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