Confronting Miller: Kalb Covers for Miller who Covers ... for Whom?

I admit it, I was angry. Tens of thousands killed, the rule of law under major assault, the United States driven to war on a pack of lies. And there, Judith Miller was having a very pleasant chat with Marvin Kalb of the "Kalb Report" at the National Press Club last Monday night.

Before the event, I'd discussed with Jon Schwarz the best question to ask Miller. We decided it should be about her two famous "aluminum tubes" stories published in September, 2002 claiming Iraq had an ongoing nuclear weapons program.

The first story was published on September 8. It indicated the tubes were surely intended for uranium enrichment, with no hint of the vociferous debate within U.S. intelligence agencies over this. The second story, on September 13, did mention the debate -- but also included this:

An administration official called discussions about the aluminum tubes and Iraq's intentions "a normal part of the intelligence process"... He added that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessment [the tubes were for a nuclear program].

This would seem to settle the matter for any normal reader of the New York Times -- sure, there are a few uninformed holdouts, but the people who really know what they're talking about think the tubes are part of a program for nuclear weapons.

There's just one problem: what this "administration official" said was flatly false. Indeed, it's one of the most brazen lies told by the Bush administration in the lead up to war.

As the Senate Intelligence Committee found in July, 2004 the director of Oak Ridge's Field Intelligence Element said "the vast majority of scientists and nuclear experts at the DOE and the National Labs did not agree with the CIA's analysis."

Several month later in October, 2004, the New York Times itself reported that the government's "A-Team" of experts -- including the head of Oak Ridge's national security advanced technology group -- strongly disagreed with the C.I.A.

So I was curious: what would Judith Miller now say about this? Would she break her confidentiality agreement with an administration official who'd given her a falsehood to help deceive the world toward war?

No. No, she wouldn't.

Miller was given incredible leeway to talk and not talk about what she pleased by Kalb. In the course of their discussion, Miller did rather proudly cite her second aluminum tubes story of September 13, 2002.

So I asked: "Your second story on the aluminum tubes, which you referenced, talked about administration officials saying that the scientists in Oak Ridge thought that the aluminum tubes were suited towards nuclear weapons production. We now know that that's false. The scientist at Oak Ridge thought no such thing. But the administration officials lied to you. Are you going to continue to protect these administration officials who use you as a conveyor belt or are you right here and now --"

[audience clapping]

Kalb, silencing audience: "Hold on, Hold on."

I continued: "-- are you right here and now going to start to come clean and put your readers allegedly above the people who you schmooze with and your sources in the government who pushed toward war … Are you going to tell us who that administration official was who put forward that false fact?"

Kalb turned to Miller and asked her: "Do you want to answer the question?"

Miller responded: "Um -- I reported what I knew at the time and you will see that the New York Times reported, finally, the Oak Ridge story."

I immediately challenged the evasion, asking her to answer my question. Kalb tried to stop me; Miller then said: "I'm not going to answer it ... because I don't even remember writing that sentence about Oak Ridge because I haven't even looked at the story, certainly not for a year before I went to jail. If you want to see what it's like to protect officials, trying going to jail and then you can judge my reporting. I did the best I could, I'm not perfect, but the only thing we can do is keep going out and keep trying to get to the truth; the Times did that."

When I tried to point out the fallacy of her talking about "trying to get to the truth" when she just refused to do so by not giving the us the name of the official who dispensed propaganda through her, Kalb interrupted my follow-up: "You're being unfair." When I told him he, like Miller, was a pathetic excuse for a journalist, he told me to leave; I didn't and was naive enough to blandly say I wouldn't leave, rather than offer to be happy to leave if Miller would answer the question, which she never did.

The blogger (who I don't know) Lost in America, covered it thus: "Marvin Kalb, the last man hired by Murrow, used the Kalb Report's one hour and 15 minutes to let Judith talk about whatever she was most comfortable with. And when a member of the audience asked a tough question about her unnamed sources, Kalb got upset, Miller did not answer and three security people showed up quickly in the back. ... Kalb served a lot of fluff tonight -- a tea party for the elite, where no mud shall be thrown and no exposures shall be made."

So, Miller is saying she "doesn't remember writing that sentence about Oak Ridge," which no one cares if she remembers writing. And that after going to jail to protect official sources "then you can judge my reporting," which is ridiculous on its face.

More broadly, Miller says she wants continue reporting, but what she's doing is continuing to coverup. In this attitude, she is a distilled microcosm of the mass of U.S. media which was at bare minimum complicit in the WMD lies.

If Miller were really interested in getting at the "truth" by doing good reporting to overcome bad, then she could begin by telling us the name of that official; who, if she were interested in the "truth," she would be furious with. Also, she said in her chat with Kalb that Bush was bent on war no matter what, which directly contracts what Bush himself claims; if she were a bit of a journalist, clearly she'd be interested in revealing more of that.

But it's worse than her being a pathetic excuse for a journalist, she is part of the continuing efforts to lie about this war, and proved that Monday night once again by refusing to share with us who the source was that used her -- or was she using the source? -- to deceive for a war that killed tens of thousands...

[originally published at on Nov. 16, 2005]