Yesterday's Washington Post piece by Howard Kurtz on the Judith Miller case quotes New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller: "It's excruciating to have a story and not be able to tell it, and annoying to be nibbled at by the blogs and to watch preposterous speculation congeal into conventional wisdom." Hmmm. That feels familiar, like when some of us raised questions about claims about Iraqi WMD's before the invasion of Iraq but the mainstream media congealed a conventional wisdom about WMDs that was utterly false -- excruciating like that? No, not at all that excruciating.
Kurtz tells us that "But Miller refused to accept a waiver from her source, Cheney aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, because she did not consider it voluntary." Here, Kurtz accepts at face value Miller's claim of motivation for her actions; a dubious thing, but all too common in U.S. media. Actually, such a practice is a violation of a basic principle of objectivity, which U.S. journalism purports to uphold. Journalists should not report as fact the motives that a given actor claims, for example the one million times the U.S. media claimed that Bush was concerned about Iraqi WMDs. Or now, that he wants democracy in the Mideast. Kurtz, if he were a serious media critic, would be scrutinizing such practices rather than engaging in them.
Kurtz reports that "The [Jason] Blair revelations sparked a staff revolt against the autocratic management style of executive editor Howell Raines, who was ousted and replaced by Keller, a former managing editor." Well, why didn't Miller's WMD stories manifest a staff revolt? Her stories were clearly far more egregious than Blair's. Had the Times done the minimal thing -- fire Miller after the invasion when it became apparent to even the most indoctrinated person desiring a tiny a shred of truth that Miller's reporting was propaganda, then the Times would not have to deal with the entire Valerie Plame affair, which didn't happen until the Summer of 2003.
But alas, this raises a question many of the Bush critics don't seem eager to ask: Why did Wilson wait so long to help publicly expose the administration's deceptions? Asking such questions should not cause Bush and company to appear innocent of major crimes, but it would more accurately reflect that others share a measure of guilt, or at least complicity or insufficient effort, and should also be held to proper account. That is if truth and not simple Bush-hatred are the motivations to be ascribed to such critics.
[originally published at husseini.org on Oct. 14, 2005]