Follow That Story: Deep Miller

Media criticism.
April 23 2003 6:52 PM

Follow That Story: Deep Miller

Is the New York Times breaking the news—or flacking for the military?

(Continued from Page 1)

And the scientist who has been cooperating with MET Alpha has actually said that he participated in ... he kind of watched, you know, a warehouse being burned that contained potentially incriminating biological equipment.

Participated in, or kind of watched? There's a difference. Is Miller holding something back? What did he see? When did he see it? What does it really mean?

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Miller expresses, without any substantiation, the "rather clear" finding that the Iraqis intended to keep anyone from finding a WMD "smoking gun" by distributing "dual-use equipment" at armories throughout the nation. Miller says further searching in Iraq would reveal no more than "a little bit of the program. You would find a program very much, these days, in the research and development stages." But if the Iraqis made illegal weapons so supremely undetectible, why wasn't Saddam more hospitable to the inspections process? If MET Alpha hasn't unearthed the hidden program so far, surely the inspectors would never have found it.

Miller doesn't say.

Miller retreats from the candor of her NewsHour discussion with another piece in today's New York Times: "Focus Shifts From Weapons to the People Behind Them" (April 23). If the April 21 story was about "the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons," today's story is about reducing the inflated expectations created by that scoop—and never mind that cheerleading NewsHour proclamation that a "silver bullet" has been found.

Miller quotes an unnamed MET Alpha source who says the "paradigm has shifted" in the search for weapons of mass destruction. At first, the United States was trying to locate the vast stores of WMD that were described in Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation before the U.N. Security Council. Finding none in 75 of the 150 suspected sites, it pared back its search to WMD precursors. Now, says the MET Alpha source, the investigators are concentrating on finding scientists who worked on WMD programs. She writes:

Based on what the Iraqi scientist had said about weapons being destroyed or stocks being hidden, military experts said they now believed they might not find large caches of illicit chemicals or biological agents, at least not in Iraq.

Paradigm shift, my ass! Powell's intelligence report insisted there were tons of WMD and now the military—and Miller—are preparing us for their complete absence. That's what I call the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons!

We can assume today's dispatch wasn't reviewed by military censors because Miller is silent on that score. But we can also safely assume Miller has been told a lot more than she's writing and is actively self-censoring. What isn't she telling us? That some Iraqi Dr. Evil found a way to convert George Foreman grills into WMD machines that transmogrify Bisquick and toluene into sarin, and the ubiquity of this technology makes the Iraqi WMD program invisible to military investigators?

And a final note on Miller's sourcing: On NewsHour, Miller confides for the first time I've seen that she's embedded with the unit searching for WMD. But, since the embedding rules specifically freed reporters from direct military censorship, inquiring minds want to know: Why did Miller agree to their review?

Investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein suggests a more elegant way to uncover WMDs or a WMD program than MET Alpha's barnstorming. Award $1 million in gold plus safe haven in the United States or United Kingdom to the first person (and his nuclear family) who leads investigators to a cache of chemical or biological artillery shells, mines, unmanned aerial-vehicle bombs, or other weapons. The offer would set off a gold rush if Iraq issued tens of thousands of WMD to battle units or even stockpiled them. If no one claims the prize, there would be only two possible conclusions: No Iraqi was motivated sufficiently to come forward, or U.S. intelligence may have seriously erred in its assessment.

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