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Commentary :: Media : Politics
Judy Miller, the Armstrong Williams of WMD
21 Oct 2005
Modified: 11:44:44 AM
Miller did things a journalist should never do. She shilled for a White House disinformation campaign that was promoting an invasion of Iraq, accepted control from the Pentagon, and deceptively misidentified her sources. Yet she hasn’t been fired by her official employer, the NY Times. Was Times senior management in on the game?
As the Plamegate scandal grows, it now appears that Judy Miller’s role was something akin to that of Armstrong Williams, the “journalist” who was hired by the White House and Department of Education to write articles selling the administration’s No Child Left Behind school “reform” scam.

Miller’s job, it appears, was to use her journalistic role to peddle a war in Iraq. Miller may not have gotten dirty dollars the way Williams did, but she didn’t need that. She was paid differently. With a book out on Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, the more she was out there pushing the WMD scare story, the more books she sold. Then too, there was the notoriety she gained by being known as the N.Y. Times expert on WMD. At the heart of the story, Miller was a sought-after guest on news networks like CNN and Fox.

Of course, there is one big difference between Williams and Miller. William's shilling for the White House just helped to damage the education of millions of kids. Miller's shilling helped lead to the slaughter of 100,000 Iraqis, many of them children, and to the needless deaths of some 2000 American soldiers.

It was all a very clever disinformation campaign--the kind that the U.S. has gotten very skilled at conducting over the years in other countries--only now it was targeting Americans. Using the Times as the vehicle for this campaign of lies was brilliant. The Times has long been kind of America’s Pravda, setting out the officially sanctioned story line for the news of the day.

As I saw over and over in my early days as a daily newspaper reporter at several small and medium-sized daily newspapers around the country, editors at their daily news meetings would always check the New York Times news wire to see what that paper was running as its lead national and international stories. Almost invariably, those would also be the lead national and international stories in the local paper.

Equally insidious, the N.Y. Times’ take on a story has a major influence on the take local papers have on stories done by their own staff. If you were working on a national story, or some angle on a national story, editors would fret if it didn’t jibe with what the Times was saying.

And so it went with the WMD fraud.

If the N.Y. Times, in articles by Miller, was reporting breathlessly about Hussein’s having vast stocks of poison gas, germ and nuclear weapons, all ready to be delivered to the U.S. any day on pilotless drone airplanes, that was good enough for most of the rest of the nation’s media. And if any reporters elsewhere had sources who were questioning this view, they had an almost insurmountable task trying to convince their editors that they were right and the Times was wrong.

Little wonder the majority of Americans initially supported Bush’s war against Iraq, and that even today, a significant percentage of Americans still believe the lie that Hussein had WMDs and even nuclear weapons.

Miller did so many things a real journalist should not do that it’s incredible—which raises questions about the role of the paper’s senior management, some of whom must have known how compromised she was as a reporter. She had a security clearance from the Pentagon, which barred her from discussing her sources with her main editors, and gave the government control over what she published. Senior management at the Times knew about this and accepted the idea of government control over their reporter. She reportedly was known as a “charter member” of the White House Iraq Group, a disinformation unit established in 2002 by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to “market” an invasion of Iraq to the American public. She even falsely identified a source, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to cover his and her tracks.

Incredibly, the Times has not fired Miller for her transgressions, or even publicly condemned her. This suggests that she has her bosses by the short hairs, with information that they were in on her scam, which she could go public with. (Poor Jason Blair—he was working without a net at his petty deceptions, and just got the axe.)

It’s hard to imagine where the current investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will go at this point. If he chooses to pursue more than just the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and goes after the WHIG effort to promote a war of aggression, we could see Miller back in the crosshairs, which would be entertaining and instructive. On the other hand, if he were to do that, or to indict the vice president, it is equally possible that Bush could precipitate a national political crisis by ordering Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to fire Fitzgerald.

For other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to:
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