Judith Miller Clings to Her Own Stubborn Myths

04/07/2015 12:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015
Ethan Miller via Getty Images

Judith Miller recently popped out of the Fox News bubble for a quick jaunt to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the home base for John Bolton, Max Boot, and other neo-con hawks, to give her forthcoming book a little free advertising. In the process she attempts to whitewash her role as an influential pro-war voice in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Her April 3, 2015 statement predictably follows the same party line as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush. She strongly defends herself against those who claim her reportage in the run-up to the war consciously fanned the flames of pro-war sentiment prior to the start of "shock and awe" on March 19, 2003. She claims she was a victim of faulty intelligence and "everybody" got it wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. So why single her out?

Judith Miller wasn't alone of course. She had a lot of help from other stenographers like her co-author Michael Gordon (who continues to be a Pentagon spokesman posing as a "journalist" who has been recently pumping up the volume on Russia's "aggression" in Crimea).

In 2002-03, running in the same "public intellectual" circles as Miller, was the late Christopher Hitchens who tirelessly traversed the country offering up every convincing-sounding argument in favor of toppling the government in Baghdad while willingly neutering his formidable intellect when it came to any possible downside to launching aggressive war in the heart of the Arab world. The Canadian scholar and politician Michael Ignatieff penned a highly influential article for The New York Times Magazine titled "The Burden," where he eagerly demanded a renewed Pax Americana and called for an unapologetic and rejuvenated U.S. imperialism.

But what sets Judith Miller apart was the timing of her report of September 8, 2002 based on anonymous sources, which gave the appearance of independently verifying what Bush, Rummy, and Cheney and the rest of the warmongers were saying every day: there was "no doubt" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and they were a direct threat to U.S. "national security."

Worse still, Cheney, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and other Bush Administration conduits hit the Sunday talk show circuit where they all cited Miller (and Gordon's) reporting from The New York Times (the supposed bastion of "liberal" opinion and the paper of record) as corroborating their elaborate lies about the existence of WMD in Iraq.

The timing of Miller's reporting, her generous and sloppy use of anonymous sources, her skewing of her "facts" toward the most alarming and scary conclusions, her prominent perch at the nation's preeminent "liberal" newspaper that reinforced the lies of a right-wing Republican government, and the multiple references to her work from Cheney, Powell, Rice and others, all came together to make Judith Miller's "journalism" absolutely pivotal in selling the Iraq War to a somewhat skeptical public.

Miller's (and Gordon's) reportage from September 2002 all the way to the launch of the war in March 2003 relied on layers of bullshit that Ahmed Chalabi, "curve ball," and other dubious "CIA assets" and Bush Administration tools had fed to them while hiding behind a veil of anonymity. So egregious was Miller's coverage of the WMD issue that the editors of The New York Times had to run a half-hearted retraction of her bogus (and in Iraq horrifically consequential) reportage.

The late Tony Judt recalled the atmosphere in elite opinion circles for those who raised criticisms of Miller's certitude on the WMD issue. Miller had become a darling of polite society and the resident "expert" on all things Middle East and Arab.

"The last time I saw Judy Miller was at a sort of dinner debate in the Hamptons in ... mid-2002 attended by George Soros, prominent journalists, and some other public figures. I spoke about Iraq, at what was then an early stage of the run-up to the Iraq War. Judy Miller put me down in the most contemptuous and categorical way. She was the expert, and I was a chattering academic. ... Then things became rather personal; I tried to respond and a number of people stood up and said in essence, 'how can you possibly disagree with Judith Miller?' She has the authority, she has the knowledge and she has the inside sources. ... What was really worrying was that this was a dinner gathering of powerful people: high in the directorate of The New York Times, senior producers from public television and others besides. Not one had the courage to support me. In those days Miller was untouchable." (Tony Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century, 2012, pp. 315-16)

Judith Miller's self-promoting column inches in the Wall Street Journal raises a few questions: Why didn't she come out earlier with this full-throated defense of her bogus reportage from 2002-03? Why did she end up as a pro-war "analyst" for Fox News during the most violent period of the United States' eight-year war in Iraq only to emerge now whining about how she had been duped? Why did she voice support for the war throughout the long eight-year slog if she really felt burned by the WMD experience? Why at this late date is she trying to create a false historical narrative of her own well-known role as a journalistic shill for the Bush Administration?

She never reported on the forces lining up in favor of destroying Iraq that might have had their own ulterior motives. She never raised any caveats or entertained in print any of the possible consequences that a U.S. war of aggression against Iraq might unleash in that country or in the wider Middle East. Over the course of the last eleven years she never once acknowledged her own importance in the run-up to the war as a "liberal" voice in furthering the neo-cons' global ambitions, or how she became such a palatable figure among war-mongering policy elites.

It's predictable that Miller would present a whiny, yet full-throated defense of her "journalism"; but it's a decade too late. Judith Miller has shown with this piece that she is as self-reflective as Cheney or Rumsfeld. She still seems oblivious to her role as a key propagandist for the most disastrous U.S. foreign policy action so far in 21st Century.

More disturbingly, she hasn't written a word about what the United States did to the Iraqi people. She chooses to remain willfully ignorant of L. Paul Bremer's catastrophic "Orders" that sent packing the Sunni technocratic class and opened the door for the crazies of the Islamic State.

She chooses not to reflect on the meaning of the Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 or Justice Robert Jackson's definition of "aggressive war" during the Nuremberg Trials as the "supreme war crime" because all of the attendant evils follow the initial act of aggression. She supported aggressive war in Iraq and she, like Ignatieff and others, must live with the results of that morally bankrupt stand.

Like Cheney or Rumsfeld, Miller seems impervious to the mass murder her war unleashed in Iraq. All the car bombs, the suicide bombs, the IEDs, the sectarian killings, the massacres, the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib, the use of power drills in interrogations, the rise of ISIL and their depravity, the beheadings of foreigners on YouTube, and so on, I suppose just elude Miller's moral radar.

Miller knows her audience. It's the same elderly white folks who snap up Bill O'Reilly's pulp nonfiction and are now denouncing President Barack Obama as Neville Chamberlain for negotiating with the Iranians instead of launching another illegal war. It's a shame. Someone of her stature offering a truly heart-felt apology might have moved the needle slightly in the direction of peace rather than war as the desired aim of American foreign policy.

But we'll never know because like everything else from the George W. Bush years we learn no definitive historical lessons, just "debates" about whether Obama is "appeasing" Iran and how sweet it would be to bomb instead.

Remarkably, despite getting wrong the most important story in the last thirty years above the fold in The New York Times, Miller apparently still thinks of herself as a kind of Edward R. Murrow figure. I wish we could bottle whatever essence gives her such an overpowering sense of self-esteem. In Miller's world she is the victim, the one who was wronged by something she calls "the left."

Poor Judy, she's unaware that her self-serving bullshit last week only reconfirms (albeit in a backhanded way) that "the left" was correct all along about the Iraq War and that she got it dead wrong.