Saturday, July 09, 2005

Where's America's Michael Smith?

(UPDATED July 10, 1PM)

Judy, Judy, Judy.

Let's not get it twisted, I have no love for you.

I've railed against you for the last few years, on this blog, on other blogs, on the streets of New York (sometimes screaming like a madman to no one in particular), and in a number of unpublished letters I sent to The New York Times.

This is an email I sent The Times on April 28, 2003:

To the editor:

Re: Suspicious Discovery Apparently Wasn't Chemical Weapons (Weapons, April 28)

Judith Miller should be ashamed of herself.

On Monday, April 21, based purely on 'briefings' by "members" of her "team", on the Times front she began a story about the discovery of the "building blocks of illegal weapons", and "precursors for a toxic agent that is banned by chemical weapons treaties." Ms. Miller went even further then 'the rules of embedment' demand, by Easonly sitting on her 'exclusive' for three days and allowing military officials to delete some of her aptly-named copy.

While she never witnessed any proof of these findings nor interviewed the shadowy Iraqi scentist, she did "see him from a distance" (like in the Bette Midler song) and sneak a peek at a document written in Arabic (which she neglects to mention if she can even read). For the most part, her story seemed to be based on 'briefings' by "members of [her] team."

On Thursday April 24, the follow-up to the "most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons" was evidently pushed from the front page to page A19 (by a more wary editor, this reader hopes) along with this assertive headline: "U.S. Led Forces Occupy Baghdad Complex Filled With Chemical Weapons." Unfortunately, yet again, the "investigative" reporter wasn't "permitted to visit the warehouse" or reveal "the source of the information." However, the key clause - "according to military officers and weapons experts" - was not fitted into the headline (perhaps it escaped the attention of that same wary - and this reader assumes - tremendously wearied editor).

Now at last, on Monday, April 28, located roughly halfway between the cover and the site of her last report (on page 8, as this reader would like to remain as precise as can be), Ms. Miller's latest headline announces that the "Suspicious Discovery Apparently Wasn't Chemical Weapons." But still, Ms. Miller's story opens with "the military team has tentatively concluded this" but declines to offer any quotes or evidence that there might still be truth to her.

It may be too late for Judith Miller to give up on her one-time 'newsbreaking exclusive', but there's definitely time for her editors to make better decisions on "all the news that's fit to print because this 'weapon of mass distortion' may be "the most harmful discovery to date" in this woeful post-Media/Military-merger world.

Didn't any New York Times editors fax her a memo concerning the Pentagon's acknowledgement that all initial WMD reports inevitably turn out to be false since the ground forces err on the side of caution? Or that unnamed White House officials admitted to the Times' embedded colleagues at ABC News that they may have over-"emphasized" the threat and that it was really just another reaction (no matter how half-baked) to the events on 9-11?

But then the L.A. Times' embeds already proved in a small sample poll that no Americans really care about finding WMDs except for maybe those wacky lefties like Michael Moore, the cast of Bull Durham, and the folks who follow the guy who wears the funny hat in Poland.

Perhaps this military dictationer has spent too much time in the air with the 101st Airborne Division and needs to regain a firm grip in the land of reality. I wonder how long the embedded process will last for her and her fellow Military mouthpieces.

Ron Brynaert

Funny how things change. Now, I'm supporting Judith Miller's refusal to reveal her source in the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame affair. Hell, I'm even going to post a link to Judith Miller's blog: Judith Miller.

Just kidding. This is the real link: But don't consider this any sort of endorsement for the bullshit stories that she's reprinted from The Times, just her brave political stance.

Miller links to a petition for people to sign called "Standing Up For The First Amendment" (link) set up by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

"For well over a century, reporters have recognized an ethical duty to protect their confidential sources. If journalists could not and did not honor this guarantee, significant sources who fear reprisal would be afraid to reveal what they know; valuable information about government conduct would not reach the public."

"Reporters recognize that this duty must be defended uniformly. It should not be compromised whenever questions are raised about possible sources, or it will be lost in all situations."

"We support the reporters in current federal court proceedings who are refusing to testify about their confidential sources and now face stiff fines, even jail. We commend these reporters for standing firm and standing up for First Amendment principles."

Instead of jumping for joy about Judy, why not listen to one of the two people most affected by the Robert Novak outing?

On July 6th, just after Judith Miller was jailed, Ambassador Joe Wilson sent a statement by email to Susan G. of ePluribus Media (John Byrne of The Raw Story also got an advance copy, Wilson knows where the real journalists work) which I'm going to reprint in full ("Joe Wilson on Sentencing of Judith Miller"):

"The sentencing of Judith Miller to jail for refusing to disclose her sources is the direct result of the culture of unaccountability that infects the Bush White House from top to bottom. President Bush's refusal to enforce his own call for full cooperation with the Special Counsel has brought us to this point. Clearly, the conspiracy to cover up the web of lies that underpinned the invasion of Iraq is more important to the White House than coming clean on a serious breach of national security. Thus has Ms Miller joined my wife, Valerie, and her twenty years of service to this nation as collateral damage in the smear campaign launched when I had the temerity to challenge the President on his assertion that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Africa."

"The real victims of this cover-up, which may have turned criminal, are the Congress, the Constitution and, most tragically, the Americans and Iraqis who have paid the ultimate price for Bush's folly."

Unfortunately, most of the Daily Kossacks didn't want to hear what Joe Wilson had to say about the "collateral damage" and some even took issue with his use of the term.

But "collateral damage" it is. For proof, read Susan G.'s latest diary at Daily Kos, which was front-paged by Armando, who also toils as an attorney who specializes in First Amendment cases. From the diary, "The Miller Payoff: OH Paper Shuts Down Story":

"So all of you who delighted at Judith Miller finally getting her comeuppance, rejoice. The victory is truly yours today."

CHICAGO Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton says the Cleveland daily is not reporting two major investigative stories of "profound importance" because they are based on illegally leaked documents -- and the paper fears the consequences faced now by jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

"Hmmm .... The rat's nest of Ohio politics being left uninvestigated for fear of jail time versus the short-term satisfaction of seeing a reporter we despise in the slammer."

"GREAT long-term thinking, rejoicers."

I've mentioned a few times that my greatest hope is that an American Michael Smith will be able to get his (or her) hands on a secret government document or memo that might reveal more about the Bush Administration's true reasons for invading Iraq instead of doing all they can to hunt down Osama bin Laden and the other leaders of al Qaeda.

On July 6th, Michael Smith, the British journalist who broke the Downing Street memo story sat down for an interview with Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air." After Downing Street posted a transcript of the conversation and here are Michael Smith's thoughts on the controversy:

"Yeah. I think Time's attitude over this has been disgraceful. Of course, Time isn't above the law, but Time has a responsibility to protect its sources. And, frankly, were I a source anywhere, the last place I'd go to now would be Time magazine."

It seems that Time magazine did what they did because it was costing them too much. They were being fined thousands of dollars every day, and that's their real bottom line.

"The Common Ills" is not a fan of Judy, and neither are the readers of T.C.I.'s blog. But T.C.I. has also been taking a stand for Judy's principles, and taking a little bit of a hit from some of the Ills' community in the process. This is T.C.I. on the difference between Time magazine and The New York Times (link):

"One organization stood behind their reporter and their concept of a free press, one didn't."

"If you're counting on a Pentagon Papers to emerge in the next few months, cross Time off the list of possible publishers. Not just because they're so scared of their shadow but also because who's going to want to talk to them?"

"You're an assistant in the White House. You hear some explosive information that the public must know. Who do you go to? Only the insane would go to Time now. You'd remember that Time didn't back the reporter and turned over e-mails. You'd know that when push came to shove, Time would be right there helping the government push you around."

I'd also like to direct your attention to the latest article written by Jay Rosen: "Time for Robert Novak to Feel Some Chill." Rosen writes that "we don't know enough to say of Novak" that he should go to jail, but we do know enough to wonder why he's still allowed to shill even though he hasn't explained anything:

"I, for one, have had it with Robert Novak. And if all the journalists who are talking today about "chilling effects" and individual conscience mean what they say, they will, as a matter of conscience and pride, start giving Novak himself the big chill."

"That means if you're a Washington columnist maybe you don't go on CNN with him-- until he explains. If you're a newspaper editor you consider suspending his column until he explains. If you're Jonathan Klein, president of CNN/US, you take him off the air until he decides to go on the air and explain. If you're John Barron, editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, you suspend your columnist (with pay, I should think); and if Barron won't do it then publisher John Cruickshank should."

Rosen doesn't really opine on whether or not Judith Miller deserves to go to jail, though he does point out in the comments section that a federal "shield law" wouldn't necessarily have protected her in this case (which is arguable...but since there is no law yet it would be silly to nitpick). But there's another comment that Jay left in his own post that I'd like to draw attention to...a comment that shows what Press Think is all about (link):

"My focus is on getting people to think, and providing (aggressively!) lots of links to help them know more, and see the several sides at work. They act (if they ever do act) on their own initiative, not mine."


"It's not only that I don't do activism, but I am frequently trying to complicate press issues and slow down rather than speed up people's conclusions. A successful PressThink post will sometimes leave a reader more informed but less certain about what she or he thinks, which is not a bad outcome from my point of view."


"The web is an ecosystem. It needs variety."

In the "After" section of Jay's post, an article written by Billmon, a former journalist turned liberal blogger who closed down his Whiskey Bar for a short spell, is linked to ("Jail Bait") which offers his mixed feelings about Judith Miller.

Billmon's final judgement:

"So all other things being equal, I'm inclined to swallow hard and support Miller -- and then close my eyes and try to pretend this is really the Pentagon Papers case and the guy Miller's protecting is actually Daniel Ellsberg, not the A number 1 conservative sleazeball in Washington."

Many liberals keep insisting that there was no "public good" for the Plame leaking. But that's because they're thinking ideologically and not in a proper "fair and balanced" way.

These two paragraphs from Billmon's post are simply brilliant:

"Rove might say (although maybe not with a straight face) that the crime of leaking Plame's name was justified by the greater public good that resulted -- i.e. the discrediting of a reckless and less than honest critic of the war against terrorism. (Remember, I'm giving Rove's hypothetical point of view here.) Certainly, most conservative "journalists" would probably agree."

"We can say this is utter bullshit, but would we draw a bright line and say that the public identification of a CIA agent is always and everywhere a crime with no redeeming social value? What if the agent is a torturer, or a drug dealer or an aider and abettor of death squads? Still absolutely off limits?"

Most on the left have already seemed to make up their mind about this. Unlike Rosen, my blog certainly does go the activist route from time to time. I try to present different sides in my stories, and I try to allow my readers to make up their own minds by providing all the links to the sources that I use in my articles, but I kind of feel that I have a sort of duty to sometimes advocate for a cause that I deeply believe in (though that would never entail asking for donations for a candidate or political party...that's where I draw the line).

On some outside projects (for The Raw Story, ePluribus Media and elsewhere), I keep the activism out of the mix. But this blog will never evolve (or devolve) into a "just the facts, ma'am" destination.

"Why Are We Back In Iraq?" will remain a liberal-minded - but not blindly partisan - blog with posts backed with extensive research and proper citations, mixed with occasional bluster and - more-than-occasional - aggressive criticism of the left, right, center, and anyone else when I think it fits.

If I can get people motivated to bring about change, even if it's only a few readers (and even if it amounts to small or loose change), then I will keep doing what I've been doing. But feel free to argue or disagree with me - those from the left, right, center or anywhere else - because that's what makes this country great: the freedom to dissent.

First Amendment, baby!


Newsweek posted an article by Michael Isikoff on the Web today from it's forthcoming issue entitled "Matt Cooper's Source: What Karl Rove told Time magazine's reporter.."

On July 11th, 2003, Matthew Cooper sent an email to Michael Duffy, the Washington news bureau chief for Time Magazine with details of a phone conversation he had just had with Karl Rove. Here are some excerpts from the email:

"Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation ..."

"...please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]..."

" was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip."

"...not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger ..."

Also, "Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson.""

How did Time get the email?

It's left unmentioned, but Cooper's "e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents."

Isikoff concludes:

"Nothing in the Cooper e-mail suggests that Rove used Plame's name or knew she was a covert operative."

But that's just semantics (isn't it?), since Cooper's email states that "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip."

While the fact that Plame was a NOC ("non-official cover") wasn't mentioned (in the email; there's no tape of the conversation so we don't know what Rove said exactly), Cooper did write that Rove said "wilson's wife" worked for the CIA and her name was easily obtainable.

Something not noted in the Newsweek story, is the fact that Time's Michael Duffy is also a part of the investigation.

As Newsday reported on March 5th, 2004 in an article entitled "Air Force One Phone Records Subpoenaed" written by Tom Brune:

"The third subpoena repeats an informal Justice Department document request to the White House last fall seeking records about staff contacts with Novak and two Newsday reporters, Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps, who reported on July 22 that Plame was a covert agent and Novak had blown her cover."

"The subpoena added journalists such as Mike Allen and Dana Priest of the Washington Post, Michael Duffy of Time magazine, Andrea Mitchell of NBC's "Meet the Press," Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball," and reporters from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. There have been no reports of journalists being subpoeaned."

"The subpoenas required the White House to produce the documents in three stages -- the first on Jan. 30, a second on Feb. 4 and the third on Feb. 6 -- even as White House aides began appearing before the grand jury sitting in Washington, D.C."

A few days ago, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post wrote a column entitled "Anonymous sources: Their use in a time of prosecutorial interest." He revealed that the White House had also tried to get him to stay off of the Wilson story, basically, by tarnishing him.

"On July 12, 2003, an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s CIA-sponsored February 2002 trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction."

I still don't think journalists should give up their sources, but I think it's a damn disgrace that so many members of the mainstream media seem to be basing their stories on off-the-record tips from Karl Rove (I should note that Pincus didn't reaveal whether or not he also heard it from Rove...but there must be a phone record which shows that one way or the other).

Bad, bad, bad press!


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