The NYT retreats, incoherently, on Miller.

A mostly political Weblog.
Oct. 24 2005 1:58 PM

The NYT Retreats, Incoherently

An "entanglement" exception to the First Amendment?

(Continued from Page 5)

Judybats: Why the feverish interest in  the Judith Miller subplot (as distinct from the Plame investigation of which it is a part)? Howie Kurtz asks the question, and answers it:

It's the war, of course. We're re-fighting the war through this case.


Kurtz is right. (He might have added that it's particularly anti-war ground on which to refight the war, since it is really refighting the WMD rationale for the war--clearly based on error--as opposed to the substantive result of the war, which is still a mixed picture.)

But Kurtz is also not right. Plenty of other people wrote reports that, in retrospect, exaggerated the threat of WMDs in Iraq. I don't notice a flurry of knives out for, say, Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, or for Jeffrey "Aflatoxin"  Goldberg. Why the "cannibalistic frenzy," as Christopher Dickey calls it, over Miller? There seem to be several factors, other than the war, at work in her case:

a) Treason: Miller wasn't just perceived as in cahoots with neocons in foisting the war off onto the public. She was doing it from within the New York Times, which the Left correctly perceives as one of "its" institutions. As a traitor within the liberal camp, she has to be expelled and punished, in a way she wouldn't be punished if she'd been an equally mistaken and influential reporter for National Review. The host body rejects her.

b) Regicide and Meritocracy: There's a sense, as Arianna Huffington noted during the summer, that this is "the straw that could break the Gray Lady's back."  In particular, publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger is perceived by many (including me) as a near-mediocrity who inherited his position and is not up to the job--and is also a friend and defender of Miller's.** The underlying suggestion is that maybe the current crisis will finally be his downfall--even if many journalists aren't eager to say this out loud, just in case it isn't.

c) Revenge I: Resentment of the NYT because it's been the arrogant top dog (a resentment I sampled when I foolishly opened the floodgates to reporters who claimed the Times ripped off their stories).

d) Revenge II: Miller throws her weight around, pulls rank, etc.

e) Democracy: The self-righteous, simplistic, condescending posturing of the Times--under Sulzberger (see (b))--in claiming special constitutional privileges for itself in the name of  "the public's right to know"--without even addressing the issue of what, in 2005, makes the Times sosuperior to the bloggers who now are much of the public.

It's overdetermined! But yet not overdetermined enough. Are those factors really enough to explain the current ferocity of anti-Judyism? There's also:

f) Sex: Miller was for many years the femme fatale of Washington, D.C., an interesting type in itself, almost always the focus of obsessive interest, jealousy and resentment. This carefully-worded  New York story (and this Huffington column) get at some of it.

My friends tell me I'm wrong, but I tend to think factor (f) is more significant than we'd like to admit, and maybe more significant than factors (b) through (e) combined. If Miller were a man who looked like Drew Carey we might have found another vehicle for re-fighting the war. ...

**--Pinch Takes Hostage? It seems highly unfair for Miller's critics to target current NYT editor Bill Keller along with Sulzberger, as some do. Keller's predecessor as editor was Howell Raines, who was pushed out after the Jayson Blair scandal in 2003. Within the Times, Miller was a Raines person and a Pinch person, not a Keller person. Miller's flawed WMD stories  ran on Raines' watch. When Keller replaced Raines as editor, he tried to clip Miller's wings. (According to the NYT's account, he "told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues.") Given Keller's relative innocence, one subtext of the Judy-out-of-jail story was the way Sulzberger got Keller to publicly walk the gangplank with him in embracing Miller--jointly taking her to the Ritz-Carlton for a "steak dinner"  right after her release. ... 12:38 A.M. link 

How Do You "Free Fall" When You're on the Floor? Mystery Pollster isn't buying  the much-publicized Bush "free-fall" among blacks in the recent NBC/WSJ poll. Small sample size. Bush's favorable approval rating with African-Americans, MP estimates, is more like ... 10%!  Meanwhile, the President's overall slide continues. ... P.S.:  MP also points to this highly useful page on the various polls' habitual biases ... sorry, "house effects." 1:37 P.M. link