Judith Miller: She’s losing the Plame Game

by Brian Clarey

In this very space on July 13 we printed an editorial titled ‘“Man the battle stations. A frontal attack on the press is underway.’” The gist of our argument, centered around the Valerie Plame investigation, was that the role of the press, indeed the First Amendment, was in jeopardy because it seemed at the time like reporters were being forced to reveal their sources. Developments like the testimony of Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper and, more significantly, the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, reinforced our position.

While we still stand by our defense of the right for journalists to keep the secrets of their sources, we wish we had chosen a better cause than that of Judith Miller, whose behavior since she was released from her 85-day prison stretch gives us reason to pause and ask some questions.

For one, why did she serve the 85-day sentence when Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, VP Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in a Sept. 15 memo to Ms. Miller, alleges that he consented to allow her to reveal his name as her source in January 2004.

It’s possible that Ms. Miller did the time strictly on principle, but other developments make us doubt that.

In her testimony to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Miller did not identify Libby as her source ‘— in her ‘tell-all’ first person account of her questioning, published in the Times on Oct. 16, she writes in graf 16: ‘“I testified that I did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby.’”

Miller later found notes from an earlier interview, the content of which, she says, leaves open the possibility that Libby was the source of the leak.

She says she doesn’t remember.

Also disturbing are accusations that Miller was a mouthpiece for the so-called ‘White House Iraq Group,’ a cabal of extremely highly placed officials in the Bush administration charged with ‘“marketing’” the war in Iraq and whose members include Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin and Libby himself.

Judith Miller’s story about Iraq’s nuclear weapons technology appeared in a September 2002 story in the Times, a few weeks after Miller met with WHIG. In it Miller suggested that Iraq was amassing aluminum tubes to make nuclear weapons, a charge which later proved to be false and was repudiated by the Times.

Of equal concern is the revelation that Ms. Miller was afforded a high-level security clearance, allowing her to see top secret material that she could not disclose even to her editors, muddying the distinction between journalist and government propagandist.

It looks like the White House is trying to pin this thing on Libby, rather than let one of the big boys like Karl Rove or Cheney himself take the hit ‘— Rove has reportedly testified that it may have been Libby who told him of Plame’s identity. If Libby goes down for this one, then Miller’s time served ‘— for which she was given a ‘First Amendment’ award by the Society of Professional Journalists ‘— will have been for naught. Unless, of course, it draws attention away from her own indiscretions.

We still feel that journalists should not have to reveal confidential sources, but this week we are forced to qualify that belief with another: keeping the identity of a source confidential is a move that should be used to protect your source’s ass, not your own.