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Judy Miller: The Wrong Poster Child for a Federal Shield Law

07/30/2008 07:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With the Senate set to vote on a new federal shield law for journalists, Judy Miller, the former Times reporter-cum-shield law advocate, has bubbled back into the news.

Last week, she spoke about the issue at the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Hong Kong, and was the subject of a lengthy Q&A published yesterday online at U.S. News and World Report.

It's a classic example of When Bad Spokespeople Happen to Good Issues.

I fully support a federal shield law for journalists to augment the laws designed to safeguard journalists and their sources already on the books in 49 states. Indeed, I don't think the proposed Congressional legislation goes far enough, especially since it leaves open the question of whether it would cover bloggers and other independent journalists.

But having Judy Miller be the face of such laws is like having Amy Winehouse doing PSAs for the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

Don't forget, Miller didn't go to jail to preserve the integrity of journalism; she went to jail to protect Scooter Libby -- and her complicity in the Bush administration's successful selling of a bogus war, as well as the White House's desperate attempts to keep its misleading of the American people under wraps.

It would make a lot more sense to make Josh Wolf the poster child for the shield law. He's the freelance journalist who spent 226 days in jail for refusing to turn over videotapes of a nonviolent protest. Or Vanessa Leggett, who served 168 days to protect her sources.

But Miller's U.S. News interview does contain a few nuggets worth chewing on -- and a thudding misrepresentation that needs correcting. First, the nuggets:

Miller believes "it would be crazy" for bloggers not to be covered by shield laws: "I think it's pretty clear that the intention of our Founding Fathers was to protect the lonely pamphleteer." I couldn't agree more.

She says that her time in jail has made her "very opposed to mandatory drug laws." Again, I fully agree.

When asked if she has any regrets about her actions while at the Times, Miller replies: "I wouldn't do anything differently." Really, Judy? Nothing? Not the inaccurate reporting? Not the willingness to put forth erroneous stories your neocon pals in the administration then used to manufacture a casus belli for the war? Not the Iraqi scientist in the baseball cap who you called the "silver bullet" of the WMD investigation, but who turned out to be nothing of the sort? Not the trading of your journalistic principles for access? Not the aluminum tubes? Not Curveball? Not Chalabi? Not agreeing to refer to Libby, then Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as "a former Hill staffer"? Nothing? I'll have to side with Times managing editor Jill Abramson who, when asked in 2005 what she regretted about the Times' handling of the Miller matter replied: "The entire thing."

As for the thudding misrepresentation, there was this exchange:

You took a lot of heat for your role in the Valerie Plame affair. If you could name one of each--what criticism do you think was fair and what criticism do you think was unfair?

Well, there was a stream of absolutely factually wrong stories from Arianna Huffington, who never apologized or corrected the record. She was wrong about everything. I didn't go to jail to protect myself because I was the source. I didn't go to jail for a book contract. I fully intended never to write anything until Scooter Libby's legal plight was adjudicated. I felt it was inappropriate to do so. And unethical.

Wrong about everything? Hmm...

Let's take her second specific first. I never suggested that Miller "went to jail for a book contract." I did report what sources inside Simon & Schuster had told me about a rumored deal with Miller -- and satirically suggested that her editor, who'd visited her in jail, might have told her an 85 day prison stay would be better for sales than 45 days. I also did a same-day update of that post, laying out Simon and Schuster president Carolyn Reidy's denial that there was a "signed deal" for a Miller book. And the next day, I wrote about and linked to Team Miller's further denials. So I'm not sure what else Miller would have had me do to "correct the record."

What is for certain is that, as I wrote at the time, Miller had been telling friends that she had a big book deal. And I heard that from people who heard it from the horse's mouth. And there is no question that the transformation of Judy's reputation from journalistic martyr to discredited neocon shill might have had something to do with the fact that there is now no book deal.

As for Miller's statement that she "didn't go to jail to protect herself" because she was her own source -- a speculation being batted around the Times newsroom at the time, and which I wrote about in the very first post I did on Miller -- she's right, that didn't turn out to be the case. But the truth was even more damning.

Miller told US News that she didn't see a lot of the criticism of her actions because "there's no Internet in jail...it's not like you can do your Google search in the morning." So maybe she missed the fact that in more than 40 posts, written over the course of 13 months, I collected and presented all the facts about her complicity in the selling of the war and in Plamegate -- and let those facts speak for themselves. And it was the facts that laid waste to Miller's noble-reporter-going-to-jail-to-protect-journalism image. It's an image that no one -- not even her staunchest defenders - still buys.

Miller also might have missed the fact that the major thrust of my blogging on the Miller story was to keep the spotlight on the Times' handling of her -- and, in the process, point by point and piece by piece, reveal what turned out to be a very dysfunctional journalistic culture -- self-protective and self-denying.

But that's one of the great things about the Internet. It's all still here for Miller to catch up on. And just in case she has any trouble doing her morning Google search, I've provided links to all of my Miller coverage below.

I invite her -- and anyone else who has a few hours to kill -- to give it a read. Then we can discuss who, in fact, was "wrong about everything."

Judy Miller Coverage:

7-13-05:
The Judy File