While I view the recent strong-arming of reporters by judges as a clear constitutional violation, it’s clear that there is a difference between Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller. Cooper’s boss made him turn over his notes after his source revoked his confidentiality agreement; Miller is going to jail for not naming her source.
While Time Inc. is being portrayed as a consitutional sellout and Miller as a martyr for journalism, the case is surely more complex. It’s likely that, by turning over Cooper’s notes, Time Inc. could actually give legs to the story and expose the source that outed Valerie Plame (Karl Rove?!). By going to jail, Miller simply protects her source (Karl Rove!?) and seemingly gains in stature as a member of the Fourth Estate sacrificed on the altar of justice.
A New Tork Metro column outs the Pulitzer Prize-winning Miller as a journalist of the whacko — not gonzo — type whose series on weapons of mass destruction for the New York Times was quoted by the Bushites as evidence of WMD existence in Iraq. Of course, her exclusives were based on interviews with former Iraqi golden boy, Ahmad Chalabi.
For the past year, the Times has done much to correct that coverage, publishing a series of stories calling Chalabi’s credibility into question. But never once in the course of its coverage—or in any public comments from its editors—did the Times acknowledge Chalabi’s central role in some of its biggest scoops, scoops that not only garnered attention but that the administration specifically cited to buttress its case for war.
The longer the Times remained silent on Chalabi’s importance to Judith Miller’s reporting, the louder critics howled. In February, in the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing held up Miller as evidence of the press’s “submissiveness” in covering the war. For more than a year, Slate’s Jack Shafer has demanded the paper come clean.
But finally, with Chalabi’s fall from grace so complete—the Pentagon has cut off his funding, troops smashed his portrait in raids of the INC office—the Times’ refusal to concede its own complicity became untenable. Last week, on page A10, the paper published a note on its coverage, drafted by executive editor Bill Keller himself. The paper singled out pieces that relied on “information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors, and exiles bent on ‘regime change.’ ” The note named Ahmad Chalabi as a central player in this group.
It seems likely to me that Miller is in jail not because of principle, but because she’s hiding a source even more embarrassing than Ahmad Chalabi.