Programming the Slammer Film Festival

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
July 5 2005 1:19 PM

Programming the Slammer Film Festival

Readers choose the most enlightening fare for Judith Miller.

The "Entertaining/Educating Judy" contest has opened two different cans of worms. But if you look closely, you'll see that the worms of both cans are commingling freely. (Let's discard this metaphor, shall we?)

The first issue is Judith Miller's role as a dupe if not an outright co-conspirator with Ahmad Chalabi and her other opportunistic or neocon pals in providing the rationale—the nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction—for an invasion of Iraq.

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Then there is Judy's current role as a martyr for free expression, fearlessly declaring she'd rather go to jail rather than identify a source—even if the source, as Steve Chapman neatly summarizes in the Los Angeles Times, "blew an American agent's cover for political revenge." That source, in other words, is a felon who sought to take advantage of Ms. Miller's well-known sympathies to deliver potentially lethal payback. One could even argue that a responsible journalist would have made that the story, but Judy was unlikely to expose her friends and allies in Bush Gardens.

Which brings us to our contest—how best to pass Ms. Miller's days and nights in jail. The Slammer Film Festival, as T. Disonte has dubbed it. First, it's worth noting that a few of you offered films like High Noon that celebrate heroism in the face of social and political pressure. No, no, no, no. Wrong contest. Others sought merely to entertain and/or unnerve her with women-behind-bars movies. A nice thought, but we really need to make those hours count.

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And now, folks: The winner and Opening Night film of the Judy Miller Slammer Film Festival is: The Siege, as nominated by SSG Terry Welch of the Kansas National Guard.

While, in most cases, there's little correlation between CIA agents and journalists, I think Judy would easily be able to identify with Annette Bening's character. She's no spook, but Judy is supposed to have some expertise in the field of Middle Eastern politics and national security, yet still she got taken for a ride by a liar with whom she had a far too close relationship. Just like Annette!

Judy might also take from the movie the lesson that fear can cause even the noblest of missions to go horribly wrong. She can think about how her reliance on the awful, self-interested info fed her by Ahmed Chalabi helped sell a war that led to the Bruce-Willis-in-the-stadium-like torture of some Iraqis.

I would like to think that this would help Ms. Miller, but I keep wondering: Can she be taught?

Incidentally, I forwarded this letter to one of the producers of The Siege, my frequent Slate pen pal Lynda Obst, who responded: "Love it! And I think [it's] right."

Before we go on, a word from Washington attorney Alan Naftalin: "Has it occurred to you that making this game is in really bad taste?" Yes, it has. But taste seems irrelevant, doesn't it, when every day another American and, proportionately, 10 more Iraqis die?

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The next slot, of course, should be filled with our most popular entry: Absence of Malice, starring Sally Field as an ambitious reporter who, "as the dupe of some smarmy ambitious DOJ types" (Harry Barlow), smears Paul Newman. "Maybe by identifying with Field's character," writes Greg Scott, "she will be able to see how the press can be manipulated by leakers both in and out of government and how even truthful, factual reporting can be misguided and damaging." John Kuhn adds, "It might have some valuable advice to give her regarding the consequences to real people's lives when reporters act irresponsibly."

Here are some nominees for the other slots, beginning with more films about corrupt or misled journalists: