Miller Time (Again)
The New York Times owes readers an explanation for Judith Miller's faulty WMD reporting.
My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction. [Click
Where did Miller learn the art of journalism? The job of a good reporter—investigative or otherwise—is more like that of an intelligence analyst than a stenographer. A good reporter is supposed to dig for the truth, no matter what "people inside the governments" with "very high security clearances" might say. The very point of Massing's objections about the prewar WMD coverage is that Knight Ridder folks got closer to the truth with blue collar sources than did Miller with all of her "inside" sources.
On the radio show, Miller conflates Massing's very specific criticisms of her work into a generalized attack on the New York Times, which his piece is not. She says:
The idea that the New York Times is just acting as a lackey for the administration—at any single day you can find reporters dissecting and analyzing and working on projects that challenge the administration's assertions and wisdom, that's what we do. And this notion that we were a pack all moving in one direction is, I'm sorry, it just doesn't bear any understanding of how a newsroom works. We love discomforting our readers. We love challenging the administration, saying, "Hey, what you've just heard may not be true." [Click
But Massing doesn't claim the New York Times is anybody's lackey; his detailed story is about Miller's unreliable and gullible reporting in the 18-month run-up to the Iraq war. Massing agrees with the thrust of my July 25, 2003, Slate piece, "The Times Scoops That Melted," where I speculated that Miller misled readers by relying too uncritically on Iraqi dissidents and defectors as sources.
But Miller says she bears no responsibility for having foisted inaccurate information upon the public because, she claims, other Times reporters mopped up after her, making the paper institutionally clean. From the same interview, she says:
Just because I don't write it doesn't mean that the New York Times doesn't write it. I mean, I love to think I can write it all. But even I can't. … So this is a constant, collective effort, and to just look at my work, and say, well, she wrote this and then she didn't get back to it, that doesn't mean the paper didn't. [Click
Once again, Massing's point isn't that the Times never revisited some of the topics Miller botched. But as long as we're on the subject of the Times revisiting her journalistic flops, I don't think anybody at the paper has ever revisited several of Miller's still-controversial prewar stories, including her piece about Russia's "Madame Small Pox," who was allegedly helping the Iraqis weaponize the disease; defector allegations about WMD caches in Iraq ("All of Iraq is one large storage facility" for WMD, the pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri told Miller in the Sept. 8, 2002, Times); or above all Miller's breathless April 21, 2003, dispatch about the Iraqi scientist in a baseball cap whom she described as pointing out the locations of buried WMD precursors to weapons hunters ("Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said To Assert"). And that's just for starters. Several months after the war, Miller was citing the military's poor methodology for the failure to locate WMD in Iraq.
Rather than come clean on The Connection about her stories and simply admit that she was taken, Miller speculates that her stories generate so much "anger" because her critics are all antiwar or they're still furious about the 2000 election, and they've made her the scapegoat. Seriously! She states:
I think the reason … is that people are genuinely angry and upset and deeply polarized about the war. And I think they're genuinely upset and angry about the election of an administration that some people feel, you know an election itself that was, quote, stolen, and that all of this anger has kind of come to the fore in the debate over WMD in Iraq.
Give me a break! I'm one voluble Miller critic who can state unequivocally 1) that the 2000 election wasn't stolen and 2) the Iraq invasion was justified. To pretend that her critics have merely misplaced their anger is psychobabble of the most inane sort.