Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Curious Case of Judith Miller

If there's a better poster child for the clusterfuck that is our society's disfunctional relationship with the "Fourth Estate" than Judith Miller, I really don't want to hear the story. This picture is just about as ugly as I can bear.

It's a strange day when I look around for high fives as a reporter is led off to jail for refusing to reveal a source. A strange day indeed.

The fraternity of professional journalists seems fairly united in the notion that reporters should be eligible for some kind of special immunity from the law when it comes to sources. Lest you think they are standing on some accepted legal precedent (an idea they are somewhat coy about), let me refer you to BRANZBURG v. HAYES, 408 U.S. 665 (1972) in which the Supremes ruled that:

The First Amendment does not relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation that all citizens have to respond to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, and therefore the Amendment does not afford him a constitutional testimonial privilege for an agreement he makes to conceal facts relevant to a grand jury's investigation of a crime or to conceal the criminal conduct of his source or evidence thereof.

So that's the law, and what else would you would expect from an official Branch of Government? It's their job to push for obedience, and it's a civic duty to push back when personal conviction or what I think of as "pragmatic idealism" dictates.

So there is a sense in which this drama is being played out like a good old-fashioned lesson in American Citizenship. I really want to be reminded of the time H.D Thoreau got tossed in the clink for refusing to pay a poll tax in protest of another of America's wars of choice (the Mexican-American War). His friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to visit him and asked "Henry, what are you doing in jail?"

"Why not just pay the tax?" Emerson asked.
Thoreau replied "Are you against the war?"
Emerson replied, "Yes".
Thoreau said "Then the question is what are you doing out there?"

That's the story I learned in school, and it's the kind of idealism I not only respect, but have grown up expecting from reporters, who go around spouting off about how they're so noble, and they're so important to the American system of self-governance, and so forth.

Okay, maybe I'm starting to telegraph a bit of impatience with the journalistic profession. I'll cop to that. They often act like the First Amendment is just for them, which is pure bullshit. Let's review:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

"The press" is thrown into a laundry list AFTER freedom of religion and speech, which (I'm still convinced, evidence to the contrary) apply to everybody. It's just not a carve-out of privilege for employees of the New York Times.

But I digress. Where was I?

Oh yes. Reporters are subject to the same law as anyone else, but I've always admired their selfless pluck in bearing the burden of informing the public about matters of importance, especially matters that the Three Branches would rather keep secret. Patriots of the highest order, martyrs when called, and all that.

Now we come to Judith Miller.

Miller is the exemplar of a new post-911® nuance in the meaning of the term "Fourth Estate". In the old messy, beatnik-infested days before "everything changed", it meant a check, or balance (if you will) against the unrestrained power of the other three "estates" of government in the off chance that they wandered into a state of collusion that was not in the best interests of the Republic. In Miller's world, it seems to mean a fourth arm of Power to be arrayed against the riffraff who might be tempted to impede the designs of the mighty.

Understand this: She's not going to jail because of some high-minded defense of the ideals of American Liberty. She's going to jail (in a gutsy, defiant way) because she thinks her occupational category is entitled to special treatment. She made a bargain with the devils who scuttle through the halls of power, and she's holding up her end because four months from now, she'll get out, and the same devils will still be running all four "estates". She'll still have her Pulitzer, and her friends in high places, and now she'll be a martyr, not to the First Amendment, not to democracy, but to her debased profession.

I'm disgusted enough to go on at even greater length, but I won't reprise her propaganda efforts in the run-up to the Iraq (thing we are doing which is not a war because the Constitution says that "The Congress ... shall have the power to declare war", but Congress never did, or TWADWINAWBTCSTTCSHTPTDWBCND). You already know enough about that. Instead, I'll let another protected source - an unnamed former CIA analyst quoted by James C. Moore at Salon.com - describe her method:

"The White House had a perfect deal with Miller," he said. "Chalabi is providing the Bush people with the information they need to support their political objectives with Iraq, and he is supplying the same material to Judy Miller. Chalabi tips her on something and then she goes to the White House, which has already heard the same thing from Chalabi, and she gets it corroborated by some insider she always describes as a 'senior administration official.' She also got the Pentagon to confirm things for her, which made sense, since they were working so closely with Chalabi. Too bad Judy didn't spend a little more time talking to those of us in the intelligence community who had information that contradicted almost everything Chalabi said."

It's a strange day when I look to the CIA to expose the secret workings of governent to The People.

It's a strange day indeed.

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