Judith Miller has had her critics over the years, but I would have thought there would be a large measure of sympathy for her on the day she was marched off to jail.
I would have thought wrong.
Many journalists, even among Miller's critics, admire her for her willingness to spend time behind bars to defend the principle that reporters must keep their promises to sources. But if the blogosphere is any indication, her liberal detractors are still mad at her for using administration sources to inflate WMD claims before and after the Iraq war, and therefore look at her as a White House tool, all the more so because they believe she is protecting Karl Rove (who has acknowledged talking to Matt Cooper about the Valerie Plame case but insists he didn't reveal her CIA ties).
In a larger sense, though, the tepid public reaction to the jailing of Miller and the near-jailing of Cooper reflects the sinking approval of journalists and their constant use of inside sources without names attached.
I'm going to start off with the report I filed for the paper, and then we'll scoop up other reaction:
A prominent newspaper reporter is in custody for refusing to disclose secret conversations with Bush administration officials, while the curmudgeonly columnist at the center of the investigation remains free, his situation shrouded in mystery.
A White House that routinely whispers sensitive information to reporters continues to decry the practice of leaking, even as the probe raises questions about the involvement of the president's top political adviser.
The undercover CIA operative whose cover was blown by the leak, possibly in retaliation for her husband's criticism of the administration, poses for a discreet Vanity Fair photo and later returns to work at Langley.
A media establishment that swears by the sanctity of shielding sources turns on one of its own as the nation's oldest newsmagazine bows to a relentless prosecutor and surrenders a reporter's confidential notes.
This is a strange moment in the sometimes polarized, sometimes interdependent relationship among politicians, prosecutors and the press. Judith Miller of the New York Times is headed to jail -- not, for the moment, the administration official or officials who may have violated the law in discussing Valerie Plame's undercover role with her -- over a case in which her newspaper's editorial board praised the Justice Department's decision to bring in a special prosecutor.
Journalists, who have watched their public standing plummet in recent years, find themselves defending an abstract principle in a case in which the sources are not the sort of corporate and government whistle-blowers who were among Time's "Persons of the Year" in 2002 but rather political insiders seemingly bent on partisan mischief.
By upholding the principle of confidentiality, said Time writer Margaret Carlson, "you're protecting a creep."
What makes the spectacle even more surreal is that Miller never wrote a story about Plame after two senior administration officials passed the information to columnist Robert D. Novak two years ago. Some, including Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, have suggested that she was identified in retribution for a Times opinion piece he wrote in July 2003, charging the administration with twisting intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Novak, in turn, found himself being grilled last week on CNN, where he works as a commentator, over his refusal to say whether he has testified, or has even been subpoenaed, in the case.
The plot took another dramatic twist yesterday when Time magazine's Matthew Cooper avoided jail, saying his source had freed him from his confidentiality pledge hours before the court hearing.
The jailing of Miller comes during a week when Bob Woodward, once played by Robert Redford, is publishing a book about his relationship with the Watergate source known as Deep Throat. The former FBI official, W. Mark Felt, has reached a book and movie deal in which he could wind up being portrayed by Tom Hanks.
The contrast seems to capture a changing mood toward the shadowy deal-making in which journalists extract information by promising to withhold people's names -- a practice that major news organizations now admit has been overused and abused -- and sources use their anonymity to spin, settle scores or expose what they see as wrongdoing.
"The public no longer respects what we do," said Daniel Schorr, the veteran National Public Radio commentator, describing himself as "very depressed" about the atmosphere. In 1976, he recalled, a public outcry helped persuade a House committee not to hold him in contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal his source for a secret legislative report on the CIA. "Today they would send me to jail without a murmur," Schorr said.
The media world has its share of dissenters. "I don't think journalists should have special rights to be accomplices to crimes," said Jonah Goldberg, a National Review editor. While he feels sorry for Cooper and Miller, he said, "nothing burnishes a journalist's career more than grabbing a toothbrush and going to jail."
Although a number of journalists have been jailed in contempt cases -- from Myron Farber, a New York Times reporter who served 40 days in 1978 in a case involving hospital deaths, to Virginia Leggett, who served five months in 2001 over a homicide case -- none has been as prominent as Miller, 57, and Cooper, 42.
Miller is a hard-charging, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and co-author of a best-selling book on bioterrorism. She is controversial for her reporting on sources who alleged that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction, but her involvement in this case has rallied some journalistic critics to her side.
In an interview yesterday, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller called Miller "a tough, principled, brave reporter."
"You can try to psychoanalyze what she's doing any way you like, but what it comes down to is a matter of principle," Keller said. "She gave her word. . . . I know it's been hard on her. She's a human being and she's scared and uncertain about what's going to happen to her. She's a little exhausted from having been so tirelessly out on the front lines."
Miller, who is married to retired Random House editor Jason Epstein, 76, calls the case against her "positively Orwellian." She recently told CNN the case was not about her but "whether or not there could be a Deep Throat today."
Cooper, who has worked for all three newsweeklies, is a soft-spoken politics junkie and a dead-on impressionist who has worked the comedy-club circuit. He is married to Democratic consultant Mandy Grunwald, whose father, former Time Inc. boss Henry Grunwald, died in February. Cooper said he bid goodbye to his 6-year-old son, Benjamin, yesterday morning on the presumption he would be heading to jail.
In an interview earlier this year, Cooper said: "The same law that could force a journalist to betray a confidence about a 'bad' leaker could be used to cudgel a reporter into outing a 'good' leaker."
Carlson, who wrote a letter to the judge on Cooper's behalf, called him "a Mr. Mom," adding: "People make fun of him because he's a stand-up comic, but he's actually very funny."
After the Supreme Court's refusal last week to hear an appeal of the contempt finding, Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine explained his decision to surrender Cooper's notes and e-mails by telling the Times: "If presidents are not above the law, how is it that journalists are?"
But some media commentators have denounced Time's capitulation in the face of threatened fines, with the Salt Lake Tribune saying it now bears "the stain of corporate cowardice." Keller said Pearlstine's decision "gave the special prosecutor one more club with which to beat up Judy and Matt. It also sends a message that big media companies can't necessarily be counted on to protect their sources."
The stakes are equally high for the White House and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.President Bush, who was deposed in the case, has said he wants to find the leakers, but lawyers and spokesmen in the case have parsed their language carefully.
Rove, who has testified before a grand jury, denied again through his lawyer last week that he had leaked Plame's identity after Newsweek reported that Cooper's e-mails identify Rove as one of his sources.
Newsweek, which has had its own problems with unnamed sources -- the magazine retracted a report in May on U.S. prison guards abusing the Koran -- reported that there is growing concern in the White House that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is interested in Rove. That was attributed to one of "two lawyers representing a witness sympathetic to the White House" -- demonstrating that despite the Plame case, leaking is alive and well in Washington.
A New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/07/politics/07reax.html? piece on the matter, while citing some backing for Judy, notes: "Not all journalists have applauded Ms. Miller for her hard-line stance.
"Col Allan, editor in chief of The New York Post, said in an interview yesterday that whatever principle Ms. Miller believed she was standing on had been taken from under her by the Supreme Court, which refused to hear her appeal in the case. 'I can understand the concern journalists would have,' Mr. Allan said. 'Somebody has lost their liberty. And in the eyes of many, no crime has been committed.'
" 'The problem is, however, that we here at The Post believe that reporters are not above the law,' he added. Frank Sesno, a special correspondent for CNN and former Washington bureau chief for the network, said journalists should probably expect the case to affect their daily working lives - though maybe not as profoundly as some have suggested.
" 'Will it have a chilling effect? Yes,' said Mr. Sesno, whose network, like Time, is owned by Time Warner. 'Is it going to take anonymous sources out of our orbit and blast them into a distant galaxy? No.'
"Mr. Sesno said he was also mindful that the particulars of the case were rather narrow. 'This is not a Pentagon Papers case,' he said. 'This is not the kind of case that, as a journalist, you'd want to go down for the count on.' "
Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com gives credit where he thinks it's due:
"Judith Miller is taking the brave move of protecting her source and I have to respect that even if others do not.
"And I am relieved for Matthew Cooper, getting his get-out-of-jail card at the last minute in the form of a dispensation to testify from his source. To quote a more charitable blog than the last one linked:
"The First Amendment may suffer for Cooper's decision, but telling your six year old son that you may not come back for 180 days to uphold press freedoms not granted under the scope of a federal investigation makes the decision easy.
"I've confessed that I'm not sure I would have the courage to go to jail and say goodbye to my children over professional privilege; I might be tempted to open an ice-cream stand instead."
Craig Crawford | http://crawfordslist.blogspot.com/, the MSNBC and CQ commentator, says that since Cooper's informant spared him, "that leaves Miller's source(s) to do the same -- and end the cowardly hiding. These are lousy facts to advocate freedom of the press, I know, because the source(s) might have committed a crime. But this result goes way beyond the crummy facts of the case at hand.
"Thanks to the precedent being set in Miller's case, federal prosecutors in future cases will have the power to force reporters to reveal sources who are serving the public good. In other words, the power to threaten journalists with jail arising from this case will NOT be limited to the facts of this case. Good luck holding future prosecutors only to cases where sources allegedly committed treason. We will see this precedent cited in all sorts of attacks on the protection of sources."
In Slate, Walter Shapiro | http://slate.msn.com/id/2122158/, a friend of Miller's, says: "I recognize that Judy Miller is a polarizing figure for many who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Slate itself has not always been complimentary about her work. But I am appalled by those who seem to be reveling in her jailing (incidentally, for a story that she never wrote) as retribution for the stories she did write during the run-up to the Iraqi War. Is this what the anti-war movement has come to?"
Arianna Huffington | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/archive/arianna-huffington/roveplame-the-word-fro_3750.html is outraged by the president's top political adviser:
"How is it that the second most powerful man in America is about to take a fall and the mainstream media are largely taking a pass? Could it be that the fear of Karl Rove and this White House is so great that not even the biggest of the media big boys are willing to take them on? Does the answer to that one go without saying? . . .
"From the way they've acted so far, the mainstream media would rather this scandal just go away (bloggers take note)."
Um, didn't Newsweek and the WashPost do stories about Rove being a source for Cooper?
"Just look at the way Newsweek handled the Rove-outed-Plame story in this week's edition. The editors obviously knew they had a hot story and could have pushed it hard. Instead, it's clear that they lawyered it within an inch of its life -- a bunch of legal eagles with faint hearts removing any juice and most of the meat from it."
I'd describe it as being careful not to go beyond the facts you have nailed down.
Salon | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/07/07/rove_plame/index.html pumps the Rove angle with a piece titled "All Eyes on Turd Blossom."
Layton at Sit Down, Have a Drink | http://sitdownhaveadrink.blogspot.com/2005/07/to-prosecute-or-not.html has a new war cry:
"Though it would be nice to see a member of the Administration jailed for releasing secret information to the press, I don't think it is worthy of setting a precedent that will vastly effect our nation's journalistic principles while also violating the rights granted to us in our Constitution.Free Judith Miller!"
Common Sense | http://commonsenseblog.typepad.com/common_sense/2005/07/judith_miller_c.html sheds no tears for Judy:
"I can't say I'm sad to see Miller get locked up. I just don't like her or her crappy reporting. And this is what she had to say when the judge ordered her taken into custody:
"Miller told the judge that if U.S. troops could risk death in their fight for freedom in Iraq, 'surely, I can face prison to defend a free press.'
"Judy Miller, war veteran. Please. I think the guys in Iraq wearing uniforms have it pretty bad, and trying to make your few months in jail so grandiose is in bad taste."
Jeff Epperly at Laquidas | http://laquidas.blogspot.com/2005/07/judith-fucking-miller-heads-to-jail.html is fed up with the MSM:
"There are certainly good reasons to protect anonymous journalistic sources. But they are used so much to cover up shoddy reporting. And that's being generous. Mainstream journalists have become so enamored of traveling in powerful circles that they often appear to be more inclined to blithely further the goals of their sources than they are in exposing malfeasance or even questioning a source's motives. Why should reportorial laziness, ineptitude and venality have any higher protections than would the average person trading in gossip? That's really all many reporters do these days.
"Mainstream journalism as it's currently practiced is already damaging America enough that one reporter going to jail hardly seems very important -- especially one as loathsome as Judith Miller. Perhaps she'll do less damage there."
Vox Populi | http://dpleasant.squarespace.com/journal/2005/7/6/bob-novak-mia-and-why.html raises a question many people have been posing:
"I fail to understand where is Bob Novak? The man is as well hidden as Osama bin Laden as it relates to this matter. Has he been renditioned or just quietly hiding behind a convenient open book to the federal prosecutor and ultimately the White [House], to which he always support (Republican administration prerequisite). How does the author of the article, that is surrounded in legal and political debate, slip, slide away and others are expressed to the full-court-press of The Department of Justice? Judith Miller deserves considerable praise and support for a strong posture and dedication to professional ethics. Can we say the same for Mr. Novak?"
Slate's Tim Noah says a picture of Valerie Plame (sans sunglasses and head scarf) can be seen here | http://slate.msn.com/id/2122069/.
In other news, you don't usually see Bush faulting his own side, but the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-court7jul07,0,2458574.story?coll=la-home-headlines has him handing out bipartisan criticism:
"President Bush on Wednesday denounced advocacy groups on both the left and right that are trying to influence his choice of a Supreme Court nominee, and he insisted that he would not weigh candidates' views on specific issues.
"The president expressed exasperation as groups that supported his re-election lobbied aggressively for favorite candidates and tried to undercut others. With Bush indicating that the selection process might take weeks, the competition could become intense.
"In remarks to reporters in Denmark before he flew to Scotland for a summit of the leading industrialized nations, the president complained in particular about the denigration of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales by some conservative groups.
"Preparing for an anticipated fight in the Senate, the White House said that at Bush's request, former Sen. Fred Thompson would guide the eventual nominee through the confirmation process. In selecting Thompson, a Tennessee Republican and an actor -- he is a lawyer by training and portrays a district attorney on NBC's 'Law and Order' -- Bush has chosen a highly visible media star whose experience with politically sensitive Senate hearings goes back to his days as a senior Republican staff member on the Senate Watergate Committee more than 30 years ago."
Not to mention someone with star quality.