(This post originally appeared in my blog The Lex Files at News-Record.com, which is no longer available.)
So former New York Times reporter (or Bush-administration mouthpiece) Judith Miller was actually presuming to lecture the rest of us this past weekend on journalism ethics.
It is to laugh.
Now, to be absolutely, positively, scrupulously fair to Miller, she’s quite right about increasing levels of secrecy, and corresponding decreases in the levels of freedom, in this country. In fact, the country’s voters spoke rather loudly last Tuesday to the effect that they get that and want to do something about it.
But I had to laugh at this:
Miller said the American media, however, give the federal government reason to doubt its motives and competence each time it is discovered that an article is plagiarized or gossip is reported as fact.The blurring of entertainment and news and the relaxing of journalistic standards can be seen in online bloggers who are critical of people without giving them an opportunity to respond or who don’t post corrections when they learn that what they have posted is wrong, she said.
“I’m worried about bloggers,” she said. “(A post) starts as a rumor and within 24 hours it’s repeated as fact.”
While she advocates a federal shield law to protect mainstream journalists from divulging their sources, she doesn’t favor extending that to bloggers who don’t follow the standards and ethnics of the journalism industry.
Still, she wouldn’t restrict a blogger’s right to publish online. She said some bloggers have been invaluable in uncovering government flaws.
“I’m glad to welcome them as long as they agree to the standards,” she said.
Tell me, Miss “I was proved f—— right”: What exactly are the standards?:
On September 7, 2002, Miller and Times reporter Michael R. Gordon reported the interception of metal tubes bound for Iraq. Her front page story quoted unnamed “American officials” and “American intelligence experts” who said the tubes were intended to be used to enrich nuclear material, and cited unnamed “Bush administration officials” who claimed that in recent months, Iraq had “stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.”Miller added that “Mr. Hussein’s dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq’s push to improve and expand Baghdad’s chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war.” Although Miller conceded that some intelligence experts found the information on Iraq’s weapons programs “spotty,” she did not report specific and detailed objections, including a report filed with the US government more than a year before Miller’s article appeared by retired Oak Ridge National Laboratory physicist, Houston G. Wood III, who concluded that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges.
Shortly after Miller’s article was published, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld all appeared on television and pointed to Miller’s story as a partial basis for going to war. Subsequent analyses by various agencies all concluded that there was no way the tubes could have been used for uranium-enrichment centrifuges.
Miller would later claim, based only on second-hand statements from the military unit she was embedded with, that WMDs had been found in Iraq. (NYT; April 21, 2003) This again was widely repeated in the press. “Well, I think they found something more than a smoking gun,” Miller said on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “What they’ve found is a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them, firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” This story also turned out to be false.
On May 26, 2004, a week after the U.S. government apparently severed ties with Ahmed Chalabi, a Times editorial acknowledged that some of that newspaper’s coverage in the run-up to the war had relied too heavily on Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles bent on regime change. It also regretted that “information that was controversial [was] allowed to stand unchallenged.” While the editorial rejected “blame on individual reporters,” others noted that ten of the twelve flawed stories discussed had been written or co-written by Miller.
Miller has reacted angrily to criticism of her pre-war reporting. In a May 27, 2004 article in Salon, published the day after the Times mea culpa, James C. Moore quoted her: “You know what,” she offered angrily. “I was proved f—— right. That’s what happened. People who disagreed with me were saying, ‘There she goes again.’ But I was proved f—— right.” This quotation was originally in relation to another Miller story, wherein she indicated that trailers found in Iraq had been proven to be mobile weapons labs. That too was later shown to be untrue.
So tell us, Judy: Is it OK if the bloggers lie the country into a war, like you did, as long as they correct their misspellings?
Actually, strike that. I’ll tell you what: In the unlikely event we who are still in the business of trying to report stuff instead of making stuff up need your advice, we’ll beat it out of you. Otherwise? Just. Shut. Up. Our jobs are hard enough as it is.