Of all the evidence that has emerged so far in the C.I.A. leak case, perhaps the most troubling is the bargain struck in July 2003 between New York Times reporter Judith Miller and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
He would provide the covert smears, and she would mislead the public about her source.
The Times reporter and the White House official shared a powerful urge to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose informed criticism of Bush administration claims about Iraq’s alleged attempts to procure uranium in Africa had embarrassed both. At the behest of administration officials such as Mr. Libby, she had exaggerated the prewar threat from Baghdad in her newspaper—and was reportedly enraged by Mr. Wilson’s audacious debunking of the myths she had propagated.
As Ms. Miller recently explained in her own Times account, Mr. Libby provided information to her about Mr. Wilson and his wife, C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame Wilson. In turn, she agreed to pretend that the smears came not from the White House, but from a “former [Capitol] Hill staffer.” By thus violating the Times rules for identifying unnamed sources, obscuring motivation and misleading readers, she became an accomplice of the Bush administration’s effort to silence a critic—and worse, to expose a loyal intelligence officer.
In short, Ms. Miller essentially volunteered to continue what she already had been doing for many months, in articles that eventually had to be disowned by her newspaper. She would again serve as an instrument of government propaganda and official malfeasance.
Her explanations of her behavior in this affair mock credulity, except at the pinnacle of authority in the Times offices, where they will apparently believe anything. She allowed her attorney, Robert Bennett, to tell special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that she had gone to jail to conceal a single source who had discussed the Wilsons with her, namely Mr. Libby. Now she says there was another source whose name she cannot recall. (Then again, she told reporters for The Times and other papers that she would not discuss her other sources, rather than claiming that she couldn’t remember them. Presumably she didn’t want her colleagues to laugh in her face.)
All of these contradictions and more draw fresh attention to a career marked by inexplicable failures of supervision, which in other cultures would require severe self-criticism from Ms. Miller and her superiors. Instead, the Times leadership appears as oblivious and arrogant as ever, although the many good people who work for them are anguished.
As for Ms. Miller, she continues to blame her terrible reporting about Iraq on others, and to wonder why so many reporters and readers now distrust her. Evidently, she still doesn’t understand what her scheming with Scooter shows about her loyalties and values.
With the support of her newspaper’s management, she has dramatically portrayed herself as a martyr to the principle of journalistic independence from government. Yet she also claims to have possessed a special “security clearance” supposedly provided to her by the Pentagon.
That boast—which raised eyebrows among many experienced reporters covering the military and the intelligence community—brought to mind the tales of Ms. Miller’s fruitless post-invasion search for the weapons of mass destruction she had done so much to publicize. The deal that she and her editors made with the Pentagon included exclusive access to Mobile Exploitation Team (M.E.T.) Alpha—the elite unit assigned to find Saddam Hussein’s elusive arsenal. While embedded with M.E.T. Alpha, she even donned an Army uniform and reportedly interfered with command decisions.
In exchange for her super-special access, Ms. Miller and her editors agreed to Pentagon censorship of her articles, according to New York magazine. But that deal didn’t work out quite the way she must have expected. Her stories were wrong, and there were, alas, no weapons to be found—as she might have understood much earlier, had she only paid attention to sources other than her fellow zealots in the Defense Department and the White House.
On the question of Saddam’s mythical nuclear program, for example, she could have examined the findings of the International Atomic Energy Authority and its chief, Mohammed ElBaradei. Their complete vindication by subsequent events has been capped with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The saddest aspect of the Miller saga is how the misplaced loyalty of her bosses led to their humiliation twice over. They entrusted her with journalistic latitude far beyond what her competence and integrity merited. They defended her—indeed, lionized her—long after her flaws and falsehoods had been laid bare.
And now her own words prove that from the beginning of this strange episode, she ignored their rules, betrayed their confidence and disgraced their stewardship of a great American institution.