Thursday, December 01, 2005

Judith Miller BBC Newsnight Transcript

(UPDATE 11-2-05 3:30 PM)

This is a transcript that I made of Judith Miller's interview with Gavin Esler which aired on BBC Newsnight on November 30, 2005:

BBC – Do you accept that your reporting on stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was wrong?

JM – Absolutely. The handful of stories – about six or seven of them that I did before the war – were wrong because the sources on which they were based were wrong. And the intelligence information that I was accurately reporting was wrong. I guess if your sources are wrong, you’re going to be wrong.

BBC – But to say you got it wrong when your sources were wrong, that - as your colleagues at New York Times have said – reduces your role as a journalist to no more than a stenographer.

JM – No, on the contrary. I really reject that criticism because I did everything I could to evaluate the accuracy of the information that I was reporting. I ran those intelligence reports by officials from the United Nations inspection force. They were quoted on the record saying they agreed with these assessments or disagreed for the following reasons. I ran them by independent weapons experts. There was not a single story that was based entirely on anonymous sources.

BBC – But you relied on sources that you could not possibly corroborate including Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress who wanted a war between the United States and Iraq.

JM – First of all, he only supplied two individuals to me out of the six or seven stories. And I always identified where the information was coming from and what his political objective was…which was to overthrow the government of Iraq with American assistance so people -

BBC – But shouldn’t that have set off alarm bells?

JM – It did. It did.

BBC – But you knew he had an axe to grind...

JM - Yes.

BBC - You knew he wanted a war and you helped the allegations provided.

JM – No. I did not write stories to justify a war. I wrote stories to answer the question: What information is the White House receiving about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

BBC – Didn’t any of this sound alarm bells that you were being used…that you became a tool of people who did want a war?

JM – No. I really don’t think so. I think that -

BBC – Really? Not by anybody?!

JM – I think that what I tried to do was report the information that the White House was receiving and getting. I did not write about whether or not we should go to war in Iraq.

BBC – No, but you helped create a climate. Did you not? Where a war became justifiable because…

JM – Not… No. Not just me. But every reporter in the country who was writing roughly the same thing. Journalists are always used when they report on what the government is saying and doing behind closed doors. Someone always wants to get the message out in a particular way. The answer to insufficient stories to flawed stories and to bad intelligence information is not just an editor’s note or apology. The answer is more reporting. Let’s go and get it right.


BBC – Who was it who told you that Valerie Plame was a CIA spy?

JM – I don’t remember who supplied the name. I remember and I testified before a grand jury to who it was that told me that Valerie Plame worked at the agency in the weapons of mass destruction area and that individual was Lewis Libby…Scooter Libby.

BBC – Was there anybody else who named Valerie Plame to you as a CIA agent?

JM – Yes, other people did but I – my notes – these interviews were two years old. I never wrote a story about it. It wasn’t – I didn’t consider it very important information at the time and my notes have no indication of who those other people were…and I really couldn’t remember.

BBC – But if it was Karl Rove, for example, you’d remember.

JM – I’m not gonna talk about who my other sources were or were not.

BBC – Isn’t it inconceivable that Lewis Libby would name Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to you without authorization from his boss: the Vice President Dick Cheney?

JM – I can’t talk about the specifics of this case because I may now be a witness in a criminal trial involving Mr. Libby and I would not - in any event - speculate about his motive or what the Vice President knew or didn’t know.

BBC – Did it all seem to you rather odd, though, that you were being told that somebody was a covert CIA agent not just…

JM – I was never told that she was a covert CIA agent. Not ever. I was told that she worked for the CIA in the weapons of mass destruction area. I thought it was interesting because clearly her husband’s trip to Niger was very controversial. Her husband had written a piece for The New York Times in which he accused the Bush Administration of lying about the weapons information – this was obviously a very serious allegation – and if Ms. Plame Wilson was somehow responsible for the information he got or for arranging the trip or if she had anything to do with that trip it would have been newsworthy.

BBC – But did it not set off an immediate alarm bell that someone is trying to discredit this woman and her husband by using you?

JM – Not immediately – to tell you the truth - it was only on…at our second conversation...when I...

BBC – With Mr. Libby?

JM – With Mr. Libby that I began to think that this was potentially newsworthy.


BBC – Would you like to take this opportunity to apologize to your readers for the mistakes you made?

JM – I am obviously deeply chagrined that I ever write anything that turns out to be incorrect and I’m deeply sorry that the stories were wrong. I’m deeply sorry our intelligence community got it wrong. I’m deeply sorry that the President was given a national intelligence estimate which concluded that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons and an active weapons program. I think it’s a…it’s a terrible failure. It’s a shocking failure. It’s a deeply troubling failure because if we don’t know if we didn’t know about Iraq…what do we really know about the programs of Iran or North Korea or Syria or what al Qaeda is up to?

BBC – Some of your colleagues at New York Times are very bitter about this. One said that you were in thrall to the Republican right who used you as a handmaiden absolutely in cahoots with the neo-cons in Washington. This is your colleagues.

JM - Did they say this on the record? Did they say this on camera?

BBC - Like your sources they said it off the record.

JM – I was notorious for kind of fighting hard for stories and to press ahead for stories and to keep some turf - that shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who works at a news organization. But I think…I don’t have a lot of respect for colleagues who criticize other reporters who got front page stories that we believed to be right at the time behind their back.

BBC – But one on the record and in The New York Times called you a woman of mass destruction. Was that fair?

JM – I…obviously I disagree. I think she inflates my role (laughs). I also think…I regret that The New York Times permitted that headline to be used. I think it was part of what Newsweek Magazine called The New York Times’ war on Miller. I think of myself as someone who did the only thing she could do at the time - a reporter that values the confidentiality of sources - could do. I really felt that I had no choice.

BBC – Judith Miller, thank you very much.

A short article on the interview is posted at the BBC News Website.

Aside from the fact that this is the first time Judith Miller has faced some hard questioning in front of the camera since returning from prison, this interview is "newsworthy" for the sort-of apologies Judy offers (notice how she piles on the CIA for being wrong but not the President) and a teensy bit of information she adds about who else spoke to her about Plame other than Libby.

Judy clearly says that her sources were plural...that's new...and she sure clammed up when Rove's name came up.

It seems that Judy Miller has decided to adopt the Bush doctrine: pretend that two-and-a-half years ago absolutely every single person in the world - not to mention the entire intelligence community - was in agreement about Saddam Hussein's weapon arsenal. Isn't it supposed to be elephants that never forget?


In case you don't feel like watching the Miller interview online, Brad Blog has downloads for Windows Media, Quicktime and MP3 (so you can listen to Judy on your ipod). It's worth a view or listen just to hear Gavin Ensler's magnificent retort:

"Like your sources they said it off the record."

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