11/14/2006 11:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Judith Miller Implies Blogs are Turbo-Charged Tabloids


I'm sure that many will see Judith Miller's comments in this report as an enormous "make-over".

Miller was speaking at Kansas State University's "Community Readiness Communications: Accurate Messages in Times of Crisis" conference.

Nonetheless I think it's important to hear what people like Miller are saying -- even if they are trying to reframe their role in the Bush administration's massive expansion of Executive authority and the hyping of the WMD threat used in part to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Some of the highlights from Jan Biles' interesting article:

Judith Miller, a former New York Times investigative reporter who went to jail to protect a confidential source, said the balance between national security and civil liberties has been tipped, allowing the Bush administration to become secretive about its decisions, intrusive into public lives and reluctant to share information the public has a right to know.

Miller said many Americans don't understand how their access to information and the freedom of the press have been affected in the past few years.

"We are less free and less safe," she said, explaining that there is a "growing secrecy in the name of national security."

Miller continues to seriously decry the secrecy obsessions of this government:

Miller said "no one can deny lives haven't changed since 9/11" and that national security is a concern, but the federal government has used that fear to justify eavesdropping on phone conversations and tapping into e-mails without warrants and classifying information that once was available to the public.

"More than 15 million documents were classified last year," she said, explaining that translates into 125 documents a minute. "It's intimidation by classification."

And American citizens are paying for it, she said, to the tune of $7.2 billion in fiscal year 2004.

How can an electorate be free and informed if it is denied information? Miller asked. Without a free press, such stories as the torture of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, warrantless wiretapping and CIA prisons in Eastern Europe wouldn't have been reported, she said.

"People need to know what the government is doing in order to debate," she said.

I couldn't agree more with Miller.

However, one part of Miller's commentary did irritate. She takes on bloggers:

"I'm worried about bloggers," she said. "(A post) starts as a rumor and within 24 hours it's repeated as fact."

While she advocates a federal shield law to protect mainstream journalists from divulging their sources, she doesn't favor extending that to bloggers who don't follow the standards and ethnics of the journalism industry.

Still, she wouldn't restrict a blogger's right to publish online. She said some bloggers have been invaluable in uncovering government flaws.

"I'm glad to welcome them as long as they agree to the standards," she said.

I'm glad that Miller sees some positives among blogs -- but not enough in my view.

Turn the tables around, Judith.

The level of sloppy journalism, follow-the-leader journalism, and misreporting in the mainstream media has also increased dramatically in these times -- and Miller's reports were part of that trend.

HuffingtonPost"s reporting as well as that of my blog, The Washington Note, on John Bolton proved to be among the most accurate and richly detailed among blogs and mainstream media -- but the mainstream media has at nearly every step of the Bolton confirmation process continued to parrot the line that Bolton would successfully be confirmed.

The Washington Note anticipated and reported every time their would be a hiccup or stall in the process -- anticipated George Voinovich's objections to Bolton in the first confirmation attempt -- and anticipated Lincoln Chafee's objections the second time.

The mainstream media was largely absent in that kind of reporting.

Blogs need to maintain humility -- but when someone like Judith Miller comments on the notion that blogs are essentially turbo-charged tabloids, she needs to reflect on her failings and those of her industry.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note