“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, October 14, 2005

the story that ran away with the reporter

PS -- Today (Oct. 15) the Times is finally running their explanation of the Judith Miller affair. It is wretched. It is written in the kind of restrained tone that is usually adopted at the dinner table after a fight with your spouse. It threads among the upsetting topics, and doesn't once mention the topic that has been discussed over and over again on the Net -- whether Miller wasn't using her position as a reporter to fight against Wilson. So: no mention of the report that Miller, in the newsroom, was telling people that Wilson was a liar. Surely if that was being said, the crackerjack NYT team that couldn't seem to pry a straight answer out of Ms. Miller could have asked about it. Instead, the NYT team simply preserved the pretence that this was wholly about a reporter doing her job -- although admitting that in this instance, the reporter was, actually, not doing her job. She wasn't reporting on Wilson, and she had information that she wasn't sharing with anybody in the Washington Bureau who was.

Until the NYT faces up to the accusation that Judy Miller was all about pumping and dumping a particular line from a D.C. cabal, it will not be able to disentangle itself from this tarbaby. The portrait of Judy Miller as Nancy Drew, ace reporter can't be maintained by NYT, but alternatives can't be explored, even gingerly.

I meant to write a companion post to yesterday’s. This will take a little longer to compose than I was planning on. Sorry.

Instead, I’ll write about something fashionable: Fitzgerald’s investigation of one of the shapes of the conspiracy that took us into the Iraq war.

It will be one of the ironies, looking back at this, that at the very time Judith Miller’s testimony proved to be highly inconvenient to the notion that she was doing anything compatible with conveying true, or at least probable, information to the citizenry, she is being given a first amendment prize. One of the media claims about its business is that it needs access to sources who are sometimes unwilling to be named in order to fulfill its function. This makes sense to me. But nested in that claim is a dimension that is as important to the designs of the governing class: that class needs the authentication provided by the news to fulfill its task of planning. The convergence of these needs in the run up to the Iraq war produced a pumping mechanism that was formally identical to the mechanism that swelled the bubble market in 1999 – the newspapers would take info from sources allied to a particular viewpoint, and then spokesmen for that particular viewpoint would quote the newspapers. Miller’s reporting made it possible for the pro-war Bush administration to pretty much quote itself to justify its claims. Instead of Cheney telling us that Saddam Hussein was close to building an atom bomb by citing Cheney telling us that Saddam Hussein was close to building an atom bomb, how much more convenient to have a story in a supposedly liberal paper built upon an unnamed source ultimately from Cheney’s office tell us that Saddam Hussein was close to building an atom bomb. This cozy relationship was threatened by Wilson – or the players in it felt themselves to be. In truth, the over-reaction to Wilson is what makes this reminiscent of Watergate: Nixon pretty much approved on a course of skullduggery that was completely unnecessary, given that he was crushing his opponent in the polls.

There was an interesting post on Jay Rosen’s blog about the decline of the NYT. I think Rosen is right: the NYT has been a surprisingly drab paper during the Bush years. This isn’t a matter of ideology – the WP is to the right of the NYT, and supported the insanity of the Iraq adventure with all the hardon fervor of a deacon on the front pew. But the Washington Post has been much more open to disagreement, and much more noticing of disagreement, which has made it a more interesting paper. And it seems more on top of things, with a journalistic crew that is riskier and livelier. Compare, for instance, Dana Milbank and Elizabeth Bumiller, and you'll see what I'm talking about. The liveliest part of the NYT has become its op ed page. That’s rather ridiculous.

Joan Didion, in an essay on Woodward, wrote that reporters generally have a sense of who is ‘running a story.” Any one national story is usually run by a handful of reporters, with the rest coming after them. Obviously, Miller was one of those running the story in the pre-war buildup. Just as obviously, running this story meant running counterfeits, innuendos, misleading analyses, and all of the rest of it. In this case, the story ran Miller. And it is now running the NYT into a cul de sac, in which Miller’s increasingly bizarre testimony (her strange discovery of notes has a very Nixonian overtone), her possible lies before the grand jury, raise the question of the degree of consciousness of the NYT presidium in allowing itself to become the instrument of a foreign policy Ponzi scheme.

Harry has come up with the prototype Limited Inc products that we are soon going to be giving out to charitable readers. And that means that we are soon going to insert smarmy please send LI money messages in every post. Like this one. We’ll be posting pics of the shirt and (on Harry’s suggestion) the tote bag soon.


Deleted said...

If one has a desire for opining, the money spent on the NY Times "select" would be better spent at LI. Why waste money on the feckless, dishwater version of liberal bias offered by the Times? It makes no sense.

roger said...

When you can get feckful liberal bias here! Plus a tote bag.
I don't see how anyone can resist.

Patrick J. Mullins said...

'she [Harriet Miers] describes as the most brilliant man she has ever met. How could I get the notes from the White House, given how opposed Mr. Bush is to leaks? I called Scooter and Karl and they sent the secret documents right over.'

Much as everyone smart seems to want to dish Maureen Dowd, while not reading all of her things and while championing the 'cogent writing style' of Frank Rich and the 'unquestioned integrity of Paul Krugman', this is the only reference slyly placed, by a NYT op-ed columnist, to the Judith Miller notes, while pretending they were 'Harriet Miers notes.' At least I think it is; correct me if not. Strangely, everything that follows in that particular Dowd piece is the clumsiest, most clownish nonsense of any I've ever read by her, and admittedly, she does a lot of silly ones. But I've seen nothing in any of the other liberal TimesSelect people who put something that could at least be construed to have something to do with Miller, even in a joke (because Miers things are not connected to Rove and Scooter, at least not yet popularly; I haven't heard of any specifically.) So even this sly reference to Miller (if it is that) proves exactly the cul-de-sac at the paper you describe. And Miller got off Wednesday without their saying anything either.

It's unfortunately important to read the NYT Op-Ed people, even if it's a sad commentary. You find out where a lot of things are situated by reading them, because they are still far enough from Sunday talk shows for the occasional fact you didn't know otherwise to be found. (Not that this doesn't mean people oughtn't to send LI $$$$. They, of course, should.)

However fashionable, this is exciting and disturbing, because we don't know what happened today, and intense irritation is caused by not knowing what Fitzgerald and Co. will come up with for Rove. It seems crucial whether he is indicted, but even that I wouldn't know at this point, with Delay operating by this week in humbler offices, but full blast apparently.

roger said...

Patrick, I hope I don't seem gleeful about the collapse of the NYT's authority. I'm not. Although I can find individual sections in other papers that are consistently better -- for instance, the LAT has had better international coverage than the NYT until recently -- the overall paper did run the news. Which is why the last five years have been so shockingly bad. The paper has gone through bad patches, but the writing has never been so dull, the scoops so behind the 8 ball. The Washington Post is, ideologically, on par with the DLC -- milk and water Reaganism. But it has better reporters today, it is sharper, it has the snap of a paper that is alive.

The few Timesmen I've ever met have been arrogant pricks. Eventually, I guess, that and the in-kind selection have dulled the paper and left it easier not to read. A shame. I mean, business, the magazine, some of the national reporters -- these are still of pretty high quality. And the Post will never have a worth it arts section, since D.C. has an organic antipathy to arts. It is still a southern swamp town, in that respect. But the Judy Miller problemo captures everything that has gone wrong with the Times. It is time for them to fire their chief political reporters, revamp the international section, maybe move some of the sharper business writers around. I don't know. But a paper can't go on accruing a rep for being a pump and dump organ of the subdeb powers that be and not get deserted.

Patrick J. Mullins said...

As you've probably seen since 3:03, there's the following doing 8 pages:


Anyway, I fully agree. This long Sunday article does describe all the holes and sillinesses of all the procedures in this case, including that the Times only released the online story of Miller's release after the Philadelphia paper put theirs up. And the fact that Libby was the source was known by many other news organizations long before the NYT would say it. There's the fact that she gets an award on Tuesday (I'm pleased that I can't remember it this second), that Keller and Sulzberger knew about Libby but not particulars for a year (approx.), all the business about the 'Valerie Flame' notation, plus the 'Victoria Wilson' notation--but in different parts of the notebook. Mainly, there is this rather hilarious stuff that keeps getting repeated, given the 'lofty principle', about how Miller really was getting antsy about how she was going to stand jail any more, and how she and all the lawyers were going to be perceived as 'having caved in' (don't you think, since they chose this 'noble way' to protect delicately sensitive Bush sources, that in fact they did 'cave in'? since Miller got scared Fitzgerald would keep her there, so her lawyers called up Scooter's.) And the way she describes her freaking out about any more jail: 'I owed it to myself.' Shit, I wish I'd thought to use that one when people thought maybe saving my ass wasn't as important as something else! The story cannot cover up the bewilderment of the NYTimes at the way they've handled this. The details are good in this story--straight from jail to a massage and manicure, martini and steak, 3 days later 'vulnerable' at the NYTimes building, so 'her friend Ms. Payne' had to come down and meet her.

I definitely like the LATimes a lot, I'm just so used to the NYTimes. I wasn't defending it, but merely saying that until it is finally declared no longer the paper of record, it has to be read for that reason alone. And it did do good Katrina coverage because of its resources; so that I did not have to watch any TV at all to find out facts. In things like that, I don't think they make up facts, any more than CNN apparently could not pretend what they were filming wasn't there. I just do better reading it, or it's this emotional rush that gets emphasized instead of the facts.

But surely the timing of the Miller business (and the so-called misunderstandings--the main one seems to be Libby lying in the grand jury and Miller not knowing whether they wanted perjury or what) must have to do with the scheduled Presidential election of last November, no? Because all of the 'misunderstandings' seem so miniscule in themselves they had to have been cleared up on some planned schedule. But that they're not going to tell us, are they? Once again, I am sure you would know better, I just followed this case because it really is interesting, luxuriously so, of course; but I don't have the expertise to judge aspects of it. I don't think they convinced the public of anything at all important as they pretend, because the public doesn't care about such rot as protecting highly placed corrupt people.

Patrick J. Mullins said...

I think I spoke too soon. Just read Miller's account of her testimony to Fitzgerald, and she really did talk about how they talked about Plame, how Libby wanted to be identified as a 'former Hill staffer,’ best was her interpretations of Libby's totally weird letter about other reporters' testimony and that incredible business about the aspens turning in clusters because ‘their roots connect them.’ Whatever else she’s left out, they managed to scare her, this tough broad type, didn’t they? and it sounds as if they were trying to even up to the end. That letter is truly creepy.