Full Disclosure

Time for Miller to come clean

The purpose of the leak of Plame's name and occupation — she was a covert agent working in the area of anti-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — was to paint her as an anti-Bush co-conspirator with her husband, so as to discredit his information on the Bush uranium claim.

Also working against Times reporter Miller is her past reporting on weapons of mass destruction, which generally hewed to the White House line that Iraq was actively engaged in producing and building up stockpiles of these arms — and thus presented a "grave and gathering danger" to America's security. When that story fell apart — the president's own weapons investigator reported after the invasion of Iraq that no such weapons could be found — Miller refused to acknowledge any error on her part, saying in essence that she had merely reported what officials were talking about in high places and had told her. She said then that this was what her job as a reporter was supposed to be. Later she softened some of these responses but never gave a clear accounting of her work nor fully acknowledged that she, wittingly or unwittingly, had misled the public. Anti-war critics have accused her of assisting the administration's push toward war.

In the days since her release from jail, she has, in my opinion, not helped herself or her paper. She has given interviews only to TV personalities who will gush over her. At this writing, there have been two such appearances, with Lou Dobbs on CNN and with ABC's Barbara Walters on Good Morning America.

Both hosts melted on camera. Walters introduced her guest thusly: "I've known Judith as a friend and a journalist for years. I visited her in jail." Later, Walters, in an awe-filled voice, said: "You were in jail longer than any other journalist." Miller quickly corrected her, "Twice as long as any other journalist." (Watch the video.)

Miller keeps saying that she is not seeking to be a hero or a martyr. Unfortunately, her demeanor — the little we have seen of it — belies this claim. This perception on my part may be a generational thing, but I was taught that a reporter does not go forth patting himself on the back for doing his job.

Also, I have always thought that keeping a professional distance between you and your sources was an important part of the journalist's code. At times, Miller's distance seems miniscule. It was reported that, while in jail, she was visited twice by John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, a hawk on the Iraq war, also made weapons of mass destruction one of his special issues. This issue seems to link many of the people in this convoluted story. All the connections lead back to the Iraq war.

Miller also received a letter in jail from Libby, the Cheney source she was protecting until he gave her personal permission to give testimony about their conversations. Dated September 15, Libby's release frees her from her grant of confidentiality and urges her to go before the grand jury, saying that he "would be better off if you testified."

Two things about the letter struck me as strange.

One is the tone — that of personal friend or buddy, not professional contact. The other off-key note is that much of the letter is devoted to laying out a kind of blueprint of the case Libby has made to the prosecutor — namely that he "did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity" with any reporter. Could this have been a map to guide Miller's own testimony-to-come?

Novak has never disguised the fact that he is a "player" in the nation's capital. Is Judith Miller also a "player" in Washington's games, or is she a reporter? Miller needs to address these questions.

Even her supporters are asking for answers. On September 30, one of her most stalwart admirers, Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, was asked during an online chat hosted by The Washington Post: "So what are the three biggest mysteries/questions that YOU would like Judy Miller to explain?" At the top of her list, Dalglish put this question: "Was Scooter Libby your source for information about Valerie Plame, or were you HIS source?"

About the tone of the Libby letter to Miller, here is how it ends:

"You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover — Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work — and life. Until then, you will remain in my thoughts and prayers. With admiration, Scooter Libby."

We reporters are always insisting on full disclosure and transparency from the people and institutions we write about. Now, with the press under scrutiny and in some quarters under attack, it has become necessary for reporters to do their own disclosing.

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