Tuesday, October 18, 2005

UPDATED: Jim Romenseko Gets It Right

UPDATE: GreatScat has the letter from John Conyers grilling Dick Cheney on why this was allowed to occur.The telling question, to me...
IV. Did journalists maintain their clearances after completing participation in the embed program? Are journalists with a security clearance or other access notified upon the revocation or termination of such clearance or access? When does such revocation or termination occur? Have any journalists who are or have been embedded with forces in Iraq had their security clearances revoked or otherwise terminated?

A tip of the hat, from one former journalist to one who's obviously well-steeped in the craft:
From BILL LYNCH, retired CBS News correspondent: There is one enormous journalism scandal hidden in Judith Miller's Oct. 16th first person article about the (perhaps lesser) CIA leak scandal. And that is Ms. Miller's revelation that she was granted a DoD security clearance while embedded with the WMD search team in Iraq in 2003.

This is as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists and the New York Times (if it knew) should never have allowed her to become so compromised. It is all the more puzzling that a reporter who as a matter of principle would sacrifice 85 days of her freedom to protect a source would so willingly agree to be officially muzzled and thereby deny potentially valuable information to the readers whose right to be informed she claims to value so highly.

One must assume that Ms. Miller was required to sign a standard and legally binding agreement that she would never divulge classified information to which she became privy, without risk of criminal prosecution. And she apparently plans to adhere to the letter of that self-censorship deal; witness her dilemma at being unable to share classified information with her editors.
In other words, for the sake of a small beat (If WMDs were to be found, which was highly unlikely given the fact that no less than THREE weapons inspectors said there weren't any), she sold her soul, but also likely put herself and her paper in harm's way by being spoon-fed a different beat on Valerie Plame, with the same confidentiality agreement enforced!

The Times should have summarily fired her ass the moment they heard about this arrangement. No editor in his right mind would allow a reporter to have unfettered access to classified information fed to them by a government (and therefore highly suspect) source, without having someone available to fact check the information.

Or as Romenesko puts it:
In an era where the Bush Administration seeks to conceal mountains of government activity under various levels of security classification, why would any self-respecting news organization or individual journalist agree to become part of such a system? Readers would be right to question whether a reporter is operating under a security clearance and, by definition, withholding critical information. Does a newspaper not have the obligation to disclose to its readers when a reporter is not only embedded with a military unit but also officially proscribed in what she may report without running afoul of espionage laws? Was that ever done in Ms. Miller's articles from Iraq?
All this happens on top of the Jason Blair and Ricky Bragg scandals at the Times, so you'd think they'd be extra cautious about letting a reporter go "deep cover" like this, especially one who's journalistic integrity was suspect from the beginning.

My suspicion is Rove calculated this as a sure-fire way to score points. Even if Miller gets outted, the Times ends up with egg on its face and we all know how unloved the New York Times is in certain politicial circles for simply reporting facts.

Facts: such inconvenient things.

This, Eric Alterman at the Center For American Progress, sums up nicely the disgust we should all be feeling towards Miller:
(Washington) Post columnist David Ignatius explained in April 2004 that the media’s “own professionalism” was to blame for them dropping the ball on the phantom WMDs. The reasoning goes like this: “In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own.”

The “rules” to which Ignatius refers are nowhere written down, and I certainly don’t teach them to my journalism students, but he is not that far off in describing the mores of contemporary Washington journalism. The Times continues to stand by the misleading reporting of Judy Miller despite her amazing February 2004 contention in The New York Review of Books: “My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times, as best as I could figure out, what people inside the government who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction.”

Note that the reporter’s understanding of what is actually “true” appears nowhere in these descriptions of the meaning of journalistic professionalism. And that is one big reason this administration has been able to lie, repeatedly, with impunity, as it has led this nation down a path toward economic, political, and foreign policy catastrophe. It is hard to imagine that this reticence is what America’s founding fathers had in mind when they gave the press its privileged status in the very first amendment to the Constitution. But that, as Walter Cronkite used to say, is the way it is…
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