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Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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October 4, 2005

News Comes in Code: Judy Miller's Return to the Times

Just one man's opinion, but now is a good time to say it: The New York Times is not any longer--in my mind--the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was. Some time in the last year or so I moved the Washington Post into that position...

… The Post, I believe, is our great national newspaper now; the Times is number two, with the Wall Street Journal close behind. Still a strong fleet. With a new ship in the lead perhaps it will sail to unexpected places.

It was a long time in the making, this change in my half-conscious rankings of the great players in news. The Web has a lot to do with it, for the Post has been bolder, more willing to experiment online, less hung up. (Plus it hired this guy, a key move.) TimesSelect has something to do with it, too, for the reasons I explored in an earlier post. The breakdown in controls in reporting Weapons of Mass Destruction is, of course a factor— along with earlier episodes: Jayson Blair, Wen Ho Lee. There’s Paul Krugman’s correction trauma. It’s an accumulation of things; the Post is just more agile, better able to adjust to a changing world, and to the exploding marketplace in news and views.

The switch happened a while ago, but I only realized it last night, as I was about to read Katharine Seelye’s account of Judith Miller’s return to the newsroom of the New York Times (Oct. 4). When I clicked on the story about 1:00 am I thought to myself… They’re not up to it. And while it may seem strange to some PressThink readers, I had never really felt that way before in reading a news story in the New York Times.

On plenty of occasions since I began reading the paper (in college) I would say to myself after finishing a Times article, “nah, I don’t trust it.” Often I have waved an imaginary hand at what I had just read, as if to say: get out of here with that! There were columnists whose way of arriving at opinions I didn’t trust, and periods when I lost trust in the editorial pages entirely. But I held to my assumption as a news reader (and paying subscriber) that the New York Times would always try to tell me what it knew when it covered a story, and it would always try to cover the stories it knew were news.

Fairness, you know, is a two-way medium. If I am not fair in my expectations, I will never find the Times fair as a news provider. As a critic I have found it more effective to hold the Times to the elevated (and self-conscious) public interest standard it sets for itself, which does in the end mean buying into “the newspaper of record” mythology, so as to point out where the newspaper and its record fall short.

Clicking on to Seelye’s article last night, I realized that I didn’t expect the Times to try to tell me what it knew. I expected what I said Sunday: it’s Judy Miller’s New York Times. She deals with it as she pleases. On Sunday, Oct. 3, the Times had not tried to tell us what it knew, prompting Howard Kurtz of the Post to say: “I was hoping I would wake up this morning and see in my ‘New York Times’ [a] 5,000-word piece by Judith Miller telling us everything that was involved. She has no more legal liability here. Matt Cooper did it.”

And Bill Keller could have ordered “it.” But Judy does as she pleases.

I like how Kurtz said he was “hoping.” There is something very basic to Times journalism about this kind of hope, which I shared with Kurtz that day. “They’re the New York Times,” we probably thought to ourselves. They’re going to tell us what they know— now that they can tell us. After all, we have been waiting while Miller’s ordeal wound down. “No piece in the paper today,” said Kurtz on “Reliable Sources.” He was surprised, and seemed a little sad too. The day before he had reported in Media Notes on frustration among Miller’s colleagues at the Times:

“People are angry,” one staffer said. “Was this a charade on her part for martyrdom, or a real principle? She wanted to resurrect herself from the WMD thing,” the staffer said, a reference to Miller stories about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be wrong.

Actually, I don’t buy it that she wants to “make-up for WMD failures,” and rehabilitate herself. The key to understanding Miller is to realize: she doesn’t think she failed one bit in her reporting before the Iraq war. (I explain here and here, if you’re really interested. Okay, one more.)

So on Sunday, day of reflection, no one in the Times was reflecting on Miller, though according to the editorial page history had been made that week. “No newspaper reporter has ever spent so much time in custody to defend the right to protect confidential sources.” Sounds Week-in-Reviewish to me.

On Monday (normally a big day for media coverage in the Times) more nothing. And in Tuesday’s “Miller returns” story very little beyond the official narrative, summarized quite well by the American Prospect’s Greg Sargent: “that Miller is a Gandhi-like figure driven solely by principle and unswayed by the worldly discomforts of prison, and that the Times is her steadfast defender.” And I don’t think its Katharine Seelye’s fault; almost any Times-person writing that article would have stuck to the known script. That’s the only safe thing to do. You get the message from the photo too: hero’s welcome.

So limited and empty and “stiff” is the official story about Judy Miller that some are reminded of the old Soviet style in public communication. News comes in code, and mostly the silences speak. Steve Lovelady of CJR Daily said so:

Our colleague Mike Hoyt has noted, reading the Times about the Times lately is a lot like reading Pravda about the Kremlin 20 years ago: You better bring to the task a microscope, a magic marker and an ability to read not just between the lines but between the words.

For example: The only quotes in Seelye’s piece are from Judy Miller, returning home, and Bill Keller, welcoming her back. There’s your official narrative at work. The staff does not speak. Incredulous professional peers are silent. There is no debate out there worth bringing into the account. No book deal the Times can find out about, although Miller gets to say she’s “unsure” about doing a book about her ordeal.

Pulling back a bit from that story, we’re supposed to believe, I guess—no one’s told me—that Maureen Dowd (who appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays) doesn’t see any column-writing promise in the “grandstanding” charge, or the “one-third of a martini in a gorgeous glass, along with a fruit tray,” brought to Miller by Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., or the “meal I want my husband to prepare,” or the big battle of wits—and totally conflicting stories—between Lewis Libby’s lawyer Joseph Tate and the First Amendment sage Floyd Abrams. No column material there, right? (On Wednesday, Oct. 5, she wrote about women in the Bush White House.)

With many unanswered questions, some of which only the Times can address, being itself a huge actor in the drama, the newspaper has gone into editorial default, as if a plea of nolo contendere had been entered at Supreme News Court in the matter of Judy Miller, prosecutor Fitzgerald and the sputtering New York Times.

Notice that in her first few days out of jail Miller could not manage to: 1.) compose a statement for the Times that reveals anything, 2.) answer a single question from reporters that reveals anything, 3.) say a thing about her grand jury testimony that reveals anything, although it is legal to do so and Matt Cooper of Time magazine did, or 4.) admit that Lewis Libby was her source, even though letters from Libby to Miller, and from her lawyer to his lawyer were posted for all to see by the New York Times! (She did it admit it Monday, four days after the whole world knew. This is journalism?)

From what I understand of the code that binds reporters, if you have big news because it happens you are a participant in the news, then you phone the desk because you think of your colleagues and they deserve the scoop. Of course you answer questions from the press when it’s time for that because you’re a source and they can’t write their stories without you. You behave with an awareness that you’re usually in their position, trying to squeeze information out of harried people, who sometimes just want to go home and have a quiet meal. You remain a journalist, even though you have to operate as a source, and defend your interests.

Judy Miller has behaved like she understood not one word of this.

Miller is a longtime friend of the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. They socialize. It’s not a scandal, but it is a fact. Sulzberger has stood behind her in a show of support that anyone watching can see is personal, and strongly-felt. She has the full support of Executive Editor Bill Keller, who has said (more or less) she’s a First Amendment hero— not a martyr, Keller would say, but a hero in the sense of acting with exemplary courage and personal conviction in civil disobedience to the law.

Colliding ominously with these two facts are several others. The weight of professional opinion—once solidly behind Judy Miller, for a long time split 60/40 for her—is now decisively against. (I would think reader opinion is similarly thumbs down.) Most journalists seem baffled by her explanations, and dubious about the waiver that wasn’t, then was. They do not see her cause as necessarily just.

Within the Times, I don’t know what the feelings are, but it isn’t possible that people there are insulated from the above facts. They know what their peers in the press think. The Washington bureau, in my opinion, has been humiliated by the plea of nolo contendere. And I doubt that I am the only one who sees it that way.

I don’t expect the editorial default to last. It’s possible that once the news coverage, column-writing and self-examination starts to flow (next week? the week after that?) the Times will recover its journalistic senses, and get back some of the reputation points that are expiring because it’s become Judy Miller’s Times.

The official story now is wait for the official story, the big piece of explanatory journalism Bill Keller has said will happen. “A full account of Ms. Miller’s case,” in Seelye’s words.

“I know that you and our readers still have a lot of questions about how this drama unfolded,” he told the staff members. He said the paper had been wary of revealing too much about the case for fear of compounding Ms. Miller’s legal problems, but added, “Now that she’s free, we intend to answer those questions to the best of our ability in a thoroughly reported piece in the pages of The New York Times, and soon. We owe it to our readers, and we owe it to you, our staff.”

“In an interview after her appearance, Ms. Miller said she would cooperate with the newspaper’s reporters,” Seelye says. That would be a switch, huh? “In the interview, she declined to reveal what she had told the grand jury.” Oh, no switch. Says Lovelady: “So much for cooperation.”

You see at Judy Miller’s New York Times, Judy decides when she cooperates. There is a code operating here but I assure you it is not the one shared among most reporters. (As I type this I learn that she will be on CNN with Lou Dobbs tonight. Update: Transcript.)

After watching the short video of Miller speaking in the newsroom, and reading the coverage again, it’s clear what her story is for the weeks ahead: Judy Miller won significant victories for all journalists with her decision to go to jail for her principles. Therefore she made the right decision, and so did Sulzberger and Keller by backing her.

The first victory she claims is: “the blanket waiver is dead.” Meaning no one in the press will believe it any more and testify when a source gives a blanket waiver to all journalists. Miller showed what a sham it was, forcing Libby to give her a personal waiver, over the phone, and demonstrate that he really, really meant it.

The second victory is that, though she was forced to submit her notes, she and the Times got to redact the notes to remove all references to other cases, other sources, rather than have a third party—neither the prosecutor nor the journalist—do the redacting. That will somehow become a precedent, she suggests.

She is very proud of these victories. “I got things that no other journalist has ever gotten out of a process like this.” Her reference point is not what the press may have won or lost from the state, but what Miller got compared to other journalists who tried it. There’s your First Amendment hero.

Miller claims that Fitzgerald was not willing to limit her testimony to one source and one story, as he did for others, and Lewis Libby did not give her a personal waiver, as he did for others, so she could not negotiate a way out, as did others. But then the pressure of her public stand forced Fitzgerald to relent and Libby to relent via negotiations. And so, her victories won, she ended her jail stay and testified.

That’s Judy’s story and she will stick to it.

Whether the Times can free itself, remember its loyalty to readers, and tell the larger story that incorporates and corrects hers is… totally unclear. Frankly, the organization may not be up to it. But this doesn’t matter to what I said at the start. There’s a new flagship paper, and just as the Times needed the Post to steam alongside and challenge it, the Post will need a strong New York Times to remain true.

So I hope it goes back to being the New York Times one day soon.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

I was a guest on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday (Oct. 9) to talk about the Judith Miller mess with host Howard Kurtz, plus Glenn Reynolds and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. Transcript is here. Excerpts:

JAY ROSEN: I think “The New York Times” has lost the capacity to tell the truth about itself in this story. It’s completely overidentified itself and the majesty of the institution with Judy Miller and what its own people describe as her personal decision making… It isn’t the First Amendment drama that they think it is. It’s a much more complicated, darker and ultimately dubious tale.

GLENN REYNOLDS: They’re acting like the target of a scandal. They’re not acting like the journalists who investigate a scandal.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: I just find the Times’ conduct at this point inexplicable. There is nothing to prevent Judy Miller from detailing chapter and verse, not only exactly what she told the grand jury, but exactly what she and Scooter Libby talked about in all their conversations at this point.

Roll tape! Take Notes! First, the Times reports Oct. 7 that Judy Miller may have to talk to Fitzgerald again:

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said Ms. Miller had been cautioned by her lawyers not to discuss the substance of her grand jury testimony until Mr. Fitzgerald finished questioning her.

“We have launched a vigorous reporting effort that I hope will answer outstanding questions about Judy’s part in this drama,” Mr. Keller said. “This development may slow things down a little, but we owe our readers as full a story as we can tell, as soon as we can tell it.”

The New York Observer reports—this is the same day—that “lawyers for Miller have turned over an additional, previously unreported batch of notes on the New York Times reporter’s conversations with I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby to prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.” These would be notes from a conversation she had about Joseph Wilson from before Wilson’s op-ed appeared. Why? We get no info on that:

The presence of the undisclosed set of notes comes as the Times is seeking to quell internal and external criticism over a lack of transparency in the Miller case. In today’s Times, executive editor Bill Keller said Miller’s potential return trip to meet with Fitzgerald could further delay the Times’ plans to publish an account of the Miller saga. Deputy managing editor Jonathan Landman, who has been tapped to edit the report, declined to discuss the state of the paper’s Miller reporting.

“I’m not going to talk about it,” he said.

Which adds up to: Editor & Publisher, Oct. 8: ‘N.Y. Times’ Scooped Again, This Time on Miller’s Notes. Indeed.

But where did Miller’s notes come from? The New York Times knows, but it’s Michael Isikoff of Newsweek who tells: “a notebook was discovered in the paper’s Washington bureau, reflecting a late June 2003 conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, about Wilson and his trip to Africa, says one of the lawyers.” Discovered in the Washington bureau, where they’re none too thrilled with Judy Miller? Hmmmm.

Now see Greg Mitchell’s The Case of the Missing Notebook. Mitchell picks up on a point I made in this post:

Why have the Times’ seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal? Conflicted? Afraid to appear disloyal? Or discouraged from commenting?

Well, Frank Rich was also on “Reliable Sources” Sunday. Kurtz could have asked him: “Frank, why haven’t you written a column on Miller’s release and the questions left hanging?” But he didn’t. Gloria Borger: “I want to say to Frank, we journalists who have been covering this story, we are all awaiting Judy Miller’s piece in The New York Times. We would like to read it, too.” And she gave him a look I would call imploring.

For the sluether in you… PressThink has a tip. To begin to unravel the mystery of what may be going on with Judy Miller, what should be going on (but isn’t), and what started to go on, but got stopped… this story is the starting point. (Mentioned by several I have talked to in the last few days.)

See the bland title: “Case of C.I.A. Officer’s Leaked Identity Takes New Turn.” And the date: July 28. Study it as you would a map. Ask every question you can. You have your assignment: go slueth.

Wanna head start? The New York Observer team: Cool Hand Judy. Important.

“Time for Miller to come clean” says Sydney Schanberg in the Village Voice: “She has to do it for the public she says she is responsible to, for her colleagues, and for the Times, whose reputation is also at stake here.” He’s a former Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for the Times.

This is a very interesting column, a gem in its way: Judith Miller and the myth of the ‘liberal media establishment: “We are a different breed, journalists. Sometimes for better. Sometimes for worse. But a different breed nonetheless. And one whose actions cannot be explained in the simplistic terms of liberal vs. conservative.” It’s by Cindi Ross Scoppe of The State in Columbia, SC.

Peter Levine comments on this post:

The implicit deal that the Times offers is this: We will cozy up to the power-brokers, but we will do it in your interests, so that we can keep you informed about their wheeling and dealing. When the Times becomes a power-broker itself, the deal comes into question. At that moment, the editors should understand that their whole justification is at stake, and they should rush to serve the public’s “right to know.” Failure to do so raises fundamental questions about the value of the New York Times that go far beyond any cases of misreporting or run-of-the-mill bias.

Exactly. Far beyond.

Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch, the widely-read industry newsletter, wrote a very smart post in comments. First he says Arianna Huffington distorted what she was told to produce her report of a book deal for Judy Miller with Simon & Schuster. Then he says that “in our little world” (publishing biz) “not only is the [Times] not the best newspaper in the country, it’s a second-rate paper, committing errors both of commission and omission on a regular basis.”

The notion of the Times’ greatness is legacy more than something they earn today. It’s still a paper that employs some great reporters and produces some great work—but they would like to remain in a paradigm in which their very best work gives institutional authority (a free pass if you will) to everything they do, and I think that’s where we have all gotten smarter.

He’s on to something there. It’s not that the Times isn’t great, sometimes— okay, a lot. It’s the assumption that great authority is bestowed “…because it’s the Times” that no longer operates. Read Cader.

Arianna Huffington replies to Cader in comments:

At a time when Team Miller was desperately trying to deflect criticism of her, and circling the wagons around the story that Miller is a journalistic martyr, the news that she was cashing in on her newfound notoriety was, to say the least, not part of the game plan. Is it any wonder that Miller, the Times, and Simon and Schuster would go into big-time damage control mode?

At HP, Arianna rounds up recent links to other blog postings about Judy Miller.

Mark Glaser in Online Journalism Review: Is Yahoo public enemy No. 1 for Big Media?

“I think we’re missing the story if we keeping asking: Is this new player or that new player (bloggers, citizen journalists, Yahoo) going to replace the big news providers?” Rosen told me via e-mail. “I’m convinced that journalists love that question — will we be replaced? — because it’s actually more comforting than the alternative: Who’s in a position to realize the potential advantages of the Web, and bring new them forcefully into news and editorial? To me the answer, right now, is clear: Yahoo is in a better position. That’s not solved by starting some blogs.”

It’s true: I told him that. Related post is my Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media.

Hey, PressThink made’s Blog 100 list. Cool. Thanks.

Over at Buzzmachine Jeff Jarvis reacts with some questions for me: “What Jay doesn’t explore yet — and I hope he does — is the question of what makes a great newspaper today. What is that definition? Has it changed? Should it?…What is the proper ambition for a newspaper today?”

I’ll have to think about it, Jeff.

“In my view, it’s a national tragedy.” Gene Lyons, a critic of the New York Times coverage of the Clintons in the 1990s and co-author, with Joe Conason, of The Hunting of the President: The Ten–Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, says in comments. “I’ve really enjoyed your pieces on Judith Miller, and learned from them. Sadly, I find the NYT’s collective behavior quite in keeping with its institutional character.” Read the rest where he explains why.

Also in comments, Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report on how the unit of valuation is shifting to “the story,” not the newscast or newspaper.

Jon Carrol of the San Francisco Chronicle says it doesn’t add up. “I am trying to construct an explanation that makes sense of the facts as we know them, and it seems clear that we do not know all the facts.” He concludes:

And another thing: How did Judith Miller get to be the martyr in all this? It was, after all, Valerie Plame who got caught in the cross fire between a vindictive White House and an angry diplomat. Someone might spare a thought for her. And if you want journalistic martyrs — well, there are a whole bunch of them in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, risking their lives to tell the story of their wars. Those are the journalists I stand in awe of.

Lisa Williams points to an intriguing post by Dave Winer about Martin Nisenholtz and Judith Miller from Oct., 2004.

I’m not sure what to say about the Lou Dobbs interview with Judy Miller. A cynical term for it would be “love fest.” Dobbs: “All of us in this craft respect you immensely and are deeply grateful to you for so doing. It’s an immense sacrifice.” He expressed his anger at Fitzgerald, but did not ask Miller any challenging questions. She said she went to jail for the public’s right to know. I guess “fluff” is the word I would use.

In comments, Geneva Overholser, who worked at the New York Times and was ombudsman at the Washington Post, disputes my re-ranking of the two. “This piece sounds like the thinking of a New Yorker who reads the Post mostly online.”

Derek Rose, journalist and blogger, doesn’t agree with me about the Times and the Post. Again he doesn’t agree with me.

This is what I love about blogging: the gentleness. Dean Esmay writes…

Jay, please hear this in the gentlest possible voice when I say these words: they’ve been a ridiculously unreliable voice for a long time now. To “get back to being the New York Times,” they’ve got to go way, way, waay back before they can be considered a real news organization again… But if I find out about an important story, even if the New York Times has it first (which ain’t that often anymore), I automatically check the Washington Post or Reuters or UPI because I know there’s a good chance the New York Times’ report won’t be trustworthy. They haven’t been the paper of record for a long time Jay.

Dean: Thanks for your post. Actually I didn’t exactly say they were… “the” newspaper of record, which I called a mythology. I said I found that newspaper-of-record stuff to be the best standard by which to interpret and criticize the Times. The best tool to communciate with.

Christopher Fotos at PostWatch responds:

Agreed that the Post is far ahead of the Times (and probably any other big mainstream paper) in its online production: has many online chats every day with reporters, editors, and guests; it links to bloggers in that partnership with Technorati; it’s trying different kinds of house blogs; it has developed online-only columnists that are developing their own distinct audiences (and is really a separate entity from the newspaper.)

But, he says, “it has the same cultural and political biases as ever.”

Patterico: “Jay Rosen says the Washington Post is a better paper than the New York Times. I’ve been saying that for ages.” Yes, well that just shows the importance of sticking to things, Patterico.

One of the more disturbing parts of “Judy Miller’s New York Times” is that the newspaper earlier went through a trauma involving an out-of-control journalist, and the isolation of top management (Jayson Blair.) It made a major effort to learn those lessons. See PressThink, The Siegal Report, a Triumph of Self Reflection at the New York Times. So it’s not like this is all new…

Finally, Bertrand Pecquerie at EditorsWeblog (an international site) comments on this post: “My conclusion: The New York Times must react very quickly to avoid any parallelism between how the newspaper managed the Blair scandal and how it deals with the Miller affair.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 4, 2005 6:59 PM   Print


If the Times could devote columns and columns to a Jayson Blair post-mortem when the impact of his journalistic crimes was far less significant, it owes its readers big time for Miller.

Posted by: Lex at October 4, 2005 9:41 PM | Permalink

Sorry Jay, but the Washington Post is also Number Two -- in every sense of the term.

That the New York Times barely passes muster as fish-wrap has been known for some time. The Post continues to coast on the alleged glory days of Watergate -- even while Woodward is now barely idistinguishable from Steno Sue as a BushCo. water-carrier. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is when the Post ran the easily proveable LIE that the governor of Louisiana didn't declare a disaster when Katrina struck. Why did it publish this LIE? Because itwas given to them by a White House "source." And having been burned by this 'source" will the Post name him? Certainly not. "Sources" are to be protectedbecause newspapers can't function without them, we're ever-so-piously infomred. That means the govenment can LIE with impunity and count on the press to report said LIES as truth -- without any consequence whatsoever.

Oh yes there are all those readers who'll complain, but as Barbara Bush says, we're just the "little people." Nothing worth disturbing her "beautiful mind" over.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at October 4, 2005 9:47 PM | Permalink

Sail on, O ship of stasis!

Posted by: ogden at October 4, 2005 10:47 PM | Permalink

Not to stray too far from your major theme but as Tom Maguire as ably pointed out, Judy Miller is not alone in her silence on this matter. At least from the journalistic side of the ledger.

Matthew Cooper hasn't written or said much as to what Libby or Rove told him. Neither has Tim Russert. Or Walter Pincus. Or, most obvious, Bob Novak.

Or a dozen or so other reporters who reportedly either testified to the grand jury or were again reportedly discussing Plame's identity.

The Times may indeed be the pennant winners when it comes to a curious silence on la affair Plame. But their winning margin is just a few games.


Posted by: SteveMG at October 4, 2005 10:55 PM | Permalink

As ususal, Jay swithces on the light when he writes of the N.Y Times' seeming silence given its, and other journalists', participation in the Miller/Libby Plame-leak blame game (which means they happen to be making the news, at least in part):

"...the Times...being itself a huge actor in the drama..."

" have big news because it happens you are a participant in big news..."
- Jay, above.

Do you suppose this occurs more often than we're generally aware - - our lack of awareness being a consequence of this journalistic code of silence when certain journalists and their editors find (or make) themselves players behind the news? I think it's possible...

Posted by: Trained Auditor at October 4, 2005 11:13 PM | Permalink

I've put off reading on this topic. It's depressing.

By virtue of its role in holding others accountable, a news staff -- as a group -- must hold itself to a higher standard. If it asks for openness and candor in others, it should demonstrate that credo when it becomes the news.

Pretty basic stuff. Until money and power and ego and status and lawyers get involved. Which they always do.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at October 4, 2005 11:22 PM | Permalink

You got it right, SMG. Judith Miller is playing the Diane Wiest role in Edward Scissorhands - standing up for a principle she doesn't quite comprehend - her narcissism and social position rendering her incapable of understanding, even as she risks her own reputation - futilely attempting the makeover of a Pricean Press while her newsroom neighbors gather round with pitchforks and shotguns...

Posted by: ogden at October 4, 2005 11:23 PM | Permalink

Kinda starts looking familiar -- the King's mistress starting to dabble in running the country, and he has to indulge her or answer questions from the Queen's family. Mr. Sulzberger isn't actually unique, but it is sort of a comedown for a paper that has "All the news that's fit to print" on its masthead. Long ago Mad Magazine paraphrased that as "All the news that fits, we print." That's about it, and it doesn't mean just what can be squeezed in between the brassiere ads.

BTW Mr. Ehrenstein -- have you read Gov. Blanco's declaration of emergency? I have, and a more thoroughly Louisianan Government document is hard to imagine. It cut&pastes the necessary phraseology from paragraph 5170 of the Stafford Act to trigger the goodie-deliveries, asks for grants in aid under a long list of other provisions, and, of the nine possibilities under para. 5170b ranging from "provision of temporary facilities" to "reduction of immediate threats to life, property, and public health and safety", asks for one thing: assistance with debris removal afterward. It's a highfalutin' language version of what the bouncer at a Canal Street club would say when you barfed on the floor: give us lots of money, and clean up the damn mess, willya?

Maybe the guys at the Post read it, and that's why they decided to LIE? Curb your enthusiasm, sir. I've been yelled at for less, and deserved it.


Posted by: Ric Locke at October 5, 2005 12:00 AM | Permalink

Miller is running a feature article this Sunday articulating everything that happened.

Posted by: Jake at October 5, 2005 1:18 AM | Permalink

The NY Times is #2 alright, but not in the way you indicate.

If you think the NY Times is anywhere near the second best paper in the land, read this eye-opening book:

"Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted"

The book runs $1 used.

The NY Times is nothing but agenda-driven partisan hackery (see: front page Al Qaqaa story days before the 2004 election, "Abu Ghraib" front page above the fold for 41 days straight, etc, etc).

Posted by: Observer at October 5, 2005 1:24 AM | Permalink

"The NY Times is nothing but agenda-driven partisan hackery"

Agreed - it is Pravda. If you're reading the NYTs, you're posioning your mind with misinformation that will be a handicap when debating conservatives.

And I agree with Jay: I'm biased right-wing, but I look to Wapo these days when I want hear opposing POVs made in good faith. They've made an obvious effort to be less partisan.

Posted by: Fen at October 5, 2005 2:22 AM | Permalink

Sure Judy, take your time about it--Sunday will do. We'll just sit here and wait, wondering just how you've spent 85 days alone and didn't have the story on Keller's desk within 15 minutes of being sprung.

Posted by: Bob Holmgren at October 5, 2005 2:23 AM | Permalink

I'd agree that the Times is #2, but the Post isn't #1, the Journal is.

The Post might be better than the Times for national politics but hoo boy, it sure isn't for business, local news, or the arts. The Post is pretty much your average American newspaper on those things.

Posted by: AF at October 5, 2005 2:43 AM | Permalink

see: front page Al Qaqaa story days before the 2004 election, "Abu Ghraib" front page above the fold for 41 days straight, etc,

Also note recent NYT's Sins of Ommission: no reporting on AirAmerica scandal, no reporting on native Sen Schumer's staff stealing credit info on Steele.

I'm reminded of my Euro friends who remained ignorant of UN Oil for Food scam, and Canadians flocking to Captain's Quarters (?) to learn about the Left's fundraising scandal.

Posted by: Fen at October 5, 2005 3:08 AM | Permalink

WaPo better than NYT is a given, but damning with faint praise.

Posted by: jethrobodine at October 5, 2005 6:46 AM | Permalink

I'm with Esmay and also wish to say it with respect to Jay--I stopped relying on the NYT a very long time ago. I remember telling friends years ago that I read it mainly to see what Democrats and liberals were thinking. It's still pretty good for that.

As for the Washington Post--I can't say everything I'd like right now, not even on my own blog, PostWatch, because I'm on the road, but long story short: Agreed that the Post is far ahead of the Times (and probably any other big mainstream paper) in its online production: has many online chats every day with reporters, editors, and guests; it links to bloggers in that partnership with Technorati; it's trying different kinds of house blogs; it has developed online-only columnists that are developing their own distinct audiences (and is really a separate entity from the newspaper) etc., etc.

But (dismal bias-discussion alert) it has the same cultural and political biases as ever, so its reporting is as reliable as ever and merits some Pravda-like interpretation of its own. I don't have the link, but in one of Howard Kurtz's recent columns on internal debates(as many of you know),a reporter expressed dismay at the liberal "our kind" monoculture, amazed for example at open cheering when watching Democrats win on some election night. Executive Editor Leonard Downie confirmed the problem by denying it; he was quoted by Kurtz as saying the complaint shows there are diverse voices at the Post.

Another example would be the online columnists I referred to. The Nation alum Jefferson Morley, Terry Neal, Dan Froomkin.... none can be described as conservative; some can fairly be described as liberal-to-progressive. That's the universe of the Post, and it creates the same patterns of error at as it does in the newspaper.

Posted by: Christopher Fotos at October 5, 2005 6:46 AM | Permalink

We would insist that the reason Miller went to jail has to do with her not wanting to testify about things other than the Plame affair. Note her and her attorney's comments about striking a deal with Fitzgerald limiting her testimony to only one subject.
Pretending that some sort of journalistic integrity is at stake is smoke.
All of these mysteries would evaporate in the light of running down what it was Miller was declining to testify about in the non-Plame issue.

Posted by: Bill Zeller at October 5, 2005 7:04 AM | Permalink


There is a lot of smoke around the story, and a lot of it is being blown. I think the truth is that the story being told isn't the real story. I don't think this was ever about Libby and whether the waivers were sufficiently personal. This was about to what extent the prosecutor was willing to limit his questioning. Judy, Saint or not, was always willing to 'give up' Libby. The real question is what is it she was willing to go to jail to avoid being questioned about. And the real question isn't what changed from Miller's perspective to get to leave jail now, but what changed in Fitzgerald's mind that he struck a deal to very narrowly limit the questioning now, when he wouldn't do so before. There was something else he wanted to question her about...and he is now willing to not question her about.


I see several possibilities. One is that Miller had other conversations with other people relevant to Plame. Keep in mind Miller was the recipient of a lot of (illegal) leaks about WMD from the CIA in the run up to the war. Miller had a confidential source, that leaked other classified information who more than likely worked with pretty closely with Plame in WMDs. There is a strong possibility that Miller was either the one who linked Joe Wilson to Plame, or at least the conduit of that information onto the DC party circuit/journalist gossip network. The conversation with Libby isn't the interesting conversation to focus on from a getting to the bottom of the Plame situation. I would love to hear her answer under oath how she first came to know Wilson and Plame were married. I bet Fitzgerald would too. But now that question will never be asked or answered.

Second, Fizgerald has a history with Miller. She twiced tipped off Terrorist Front Organizations/Islamic Charities that Fitzgerald was investigating that he had been issued a warrant before the warrants could be served. (Interestingly enough, this is also an illegal leak of secret Grand Jury testimony). Those 'charities' had the opportunity to sanitize anything that needed sanitizing before Fitzgerald could execute the warrant. I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on a blog, and I don't pretend to fully understand the limitations of a grand jury empanelled for one purpose to consider another case. Suffice it to say, I don't think Fitzgerald would be unhappy to see Miller sitting in prison for her actions in those situations. She blew an investigation with national security implications, twice, for the petty reason of getting a comment on the warrant that was about to be served on them.

Posted by: blanknoone at October 5, 2005 7:44 AM | Permalink

When I want news, with value-added reporting, I turn to the Washington Post or the Journal.

When I want to see a bunch of knee-jerk, hidebound pseudointellectuals engaging in a self-congratulatory soap opera of dysfunction, - and when I want to see book reviewers wring the last driplets of utility from the word "limn," - I look to the New York Times,

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at October 5, 2005 9:18 AM | Permalink

I wouldn't completely agree with you, Jay. For instance, this morning the Post finally ran a story looking at the distorted reporting on crime at the Superdome and convention center in New Orleans -- and it ran inside, what a week? 2 weeks? after other newspapers, including the Times, reported on it.
Also, look at the Post's coverage of Karen Hughes in Saudi Arabia. If you compare the Post's story to others, it completely missed the attitude of the women Hughes was addressing. Or how about the Armstrong Williams case? A namby-pamby story inside, compared to the Times' strongly worded story.
And the Post had some potential scoops *before* the war on the lack of WMD -- which it buried. It's had some great reporting -- buried inside the A section. The Post has some terrific reporters. It's just too bad its editors are such wimps.
And its local coverage sucks. I imagine that New Yorkers probably say the same thing about the Times. Unfortunately, as much as I gripe about the Post's local coverage, I go to other cities, see their local papers and realize residents of other towns have it much worse.

Posted by: lou at October 5, 2005 9:26 AM | Permalink

I should say I'm exaggerating.

Slightly. ;-)

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at October 5, 2005 10:24 AM | Permalink

When you read NYT, you can feel that it wants to slant the news coverage to the tune of its editorial page direction. When you read WaPost, it seems to hum to more of a "fair and balanced" tone. NYT has lost its objectivity a long time ago, and hence it has resulted in issuing major corrections all the time.

Posted by: Cableguy at October 5, 2005 10:42 AM | Permalink

David Ehrenstein is only half right about Blanco declaring a State of Emergency about Katrina. The NYT got it wrong that no emergency was declared at all, but still missed the point that neither the Governor not the Legislature of Louisiana declared that the state government could not meet the crisis--the Feds have never been and still are not "in charge", they have no statutory recourse if state and local officials act in a manner contrary to FEMA's direction, or if they fail to apprise FEMA of relevant information--in the first crucial days, FEMA was a blind suggestor, not a "management" agency in LA, and that's how the LA govt. wants it.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: Tom Perkins at October 5, 2005 10:43 AM | Permalink

What is left of the house that Jayson Blair burned down is quickly being destroyed by Judy Miller, wielding the WMD she didn't find in Iraq, making way for a new faux Times, remade in her image.

I have a friend who works there. I'd call him, but I'm afraid the conversation would turn into something off a suicide hotline. You toil for your whole career to reach to top of the mountain, only to find it's the wrong mountain. If I were there, I'd be tempted to jump.

Posted by: Kirk Caraway at October 5, 2005 10:52 AM | Permalink

Beg pardon, that was the Post, nevertheless, neither the NYT nor the Post have shown how very badly the LA govt wants to continue "owning" their disastrous emergency response, and I have seen no commentary from any MSM source, much less the Post or NYT, about how it is innapropriate for the WH to be basing it's call for a major change to the Posse Comitatus laws on the inadequacy of state and local governments.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: Tom Perkins at October 5, 2005 11:43 AM | Permalink

How can the Washington Post Be Considered the best National paper when you cant even find a copy on the West Coast? Doesnt being a National paper mean you need to be accesible to everybody? (and not just on the Internet?)

Posted by: Anonymous at October 5, 2005 11:47 AM | Permalink

It is certainly true that while The New York Times was the standard when I studied journalism at NYU, today it is not something I would wipe my feet on. I do not read it, and will not.

As to which are the better papers, there may well be some lack of exposure here. The best paper in the country is the Los Angeles Times, with WAPO and WSJ in the rear. And the sinlg must-read weekly is The Week.

Posted by: dancooper59 at October 5, 2005 12:00 PM | Permalink

The owners of the WaPo have made it very clear that they think it is a "local" paper, which *may* have a bit of interest to non-locals.

Hence no one outside of the area being able to buy one.

The best paper in the country is the Los Angeles Times

Hahahaha, good one. You owe me a new keyboard, I spit out my drink laughing.

Posted by: K at October 5, 2005 12:17 PM | Permalink

Dear Jay,

Your work is always engaging and thought-provoking. But this piece sounds like the thinking of a New Yorker who reads the Post mostly online.

Witnessing the crowning of a new champion based overwhelmingly on the old champ's weaknesses makes one itch to recount one's gripes about the new guy. But I'll demur -- mostly -- since there's plenty to praise and decry in each. I will say this: The Post is indeed more agile and inventive online. But the new number one national newspaper? Hmmm.


Posted by: Geneva Overholser at October 5, 2005 12:26 PM | Permalink

I live in Washington and I totally disagree with your assessment of the Post as the number 1 newspaper.
Even when it comes to stories about national politics, the Post often follows the Times in reporting.
Many of the best writers for the Post have left to write books or do other things.
Name 3 great WaPo op-ed writers who match Dowd, Friedman, and Krugman?
The Post seems to completely pander to suburban readers, hoping to keep them as subscribers.
Yes the Grey Lady has made some missteps over the past 2 years and she may be getting wobbly on that pedestal but when you aim high you are bound to fail occasionally, often in a spectacular way.
When you aim low you may look more competent, but that doesn't make you great.

Posted by: Fran Murphy at October 5, 2005 1:02 PM | Permalink


What is wrong with keeping suburban readers happy? If I was a newspaper I would keep anyone who would buy my paper happy. We may have a free press, but ink and bandwidth is not free.

Posted by: Tim at October 5, 2005 1:32 PM | Permalink


In the end, does this matter? The president is already ignoring the press. Many of the above readers already take the NYT with a grain of salt, if they get it at all. Others have been shut out by the pay site.

If the NYT starts acting more like the National Enquirer will any one notice? Those whom have not already been turned off by the newspaper don't care and the others are happy and will accept the Times explanation.

Posted by: Tim at October 5, 2005 1:38 PM | Permalink

Geneva Overholser hit the nail on the head when she writes: "The Post is indeed more agile and inventive online. But..." No buts about it lady, if you want to be a "national" paper, you have to be "agile and inventive."

So what if WaPo, LATimes, WSJ, don't have home delivery? Who could afford all that anyway? What I've found is that the best information is local. Concerning Katrina, the best coverage was at and Times-Picayune---they blew NYTimes, WaPo out of the water (maybe literally) because they knew the local scene, and the others were just parachuted in. The best information about the DeLay indictment is not at NYTimes (unless you value partisan hackery) or even WaPo (though they are better at understanding government and politics) but in the TX papers.

You couldn't subscribe to all these local papers, even if you wanted to----this is why inventiveness online is so important---you'll get the best information from the local paper----no matter the locale.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 5, 2005 1:51 PM | Permalink

I wish to put forth a seemingly ridiculous notion. Considering the current state of the major newpapers - the Post and the 2 Times (NY and LA) - I might nominate USA Today for number 1. The main reason being that they seem to be improving, the other 3 are going the other way....

Posted by: Allen Franklin at October 5, 2005 1:55 PM | Permalink

This argument has been going on for decades.
I worked for the Wall Street Journal a LONG time ago -- 1966 to 1973 -- and every one of us there had the experience of watching our peers at other papers flitting about like waterbugs, meeting daily deadlines, while we had the luxury of working on a story for days, weeks, even months. Consequently, each of us had the quiet conviction that we were doing the best journalism of anyone.
Then sometime during that period, Time magazine hired a British critic, Henry Fairlie, to survey and critique the American press. Fairlie wrote a long and engaging essay declaring the Journal the best newspaper on the planet. It created quite a ruckus -- but those of us at the paper just shrugged our shoulders and said, or at least thought, "But of course," and we went about our business.
A lot has changed since then, but I suspect if you polled the paper's staff today you would get the same reaction. It's in their DNA, like the 1927 Yankees, and that's the reason they maintain a high batting average.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 5, 2005 3:06 PM | Permalink

Come to think of it, I don't know that it's truly possible to have a quality "national" newspaper. Too many barriers, too many compromises, too many crushing expectations. Does the same apply to the web?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at October 5, 2005 3:24 PM | Permalink

"what makes a great newspaper today. What is that definition? Has it changed? Should it?…What is the proper ambition for a newspaper today?”

Jeff and Jay, meet Janet -
"What standards of behavior or rules or agreements can we make that create a generally credible source? ... A world where I get to pick whom I believe on the basis of who entertains me and agrees with me the most is, well, here. And none too pleasant. So what's the answer? How do you create an information source in this culture, in this country that serves the role of the Fourth Estate?"

Posted by: Anna Haynes at October 5, 2005 4:11 PM | Permalink

Jay (or Steve),

Do you think its actually possible for a newspaper or any news organization to "recuse" itself from covering a story? To say, "sorry, we're just too involved to cover this...go get your news elsewhere about this issue."

I know this might sound ridiculous but I recall saying something *like* that about the Microsoft Anti-trust case. Granted Slate isn't an all-purpose daily newspaper but more like a general-interest web magazine.

Posted by: Catrina at October 5, 2005 4:31 PM | Permalink

We liberal, small-town Democrats here in NW Wisconsin have all switched to having the POST as #1 on our "favorites" list, followed by the TIMES. This is in protest over the new fee that the TIMES charges for the right to read some of their big-name writers. There is no #3 upon which we agree. The WSJ's editorial attitude makes me want to puke whenever I look at it, so I hardly ever do. But because I value a certain diversity in my small resort town of Spooner, I pay for the library's subscription.

I know there are readers who parse every line of every article in both papers to press their accusations and acolades, but after I listen to something like Fox News or read a piece by Cal Thomas, I can easily appreciate having both the TIMES and the POST online. They are sometimes wrong and sometimes biased, and, yes, they make their share of mistakes of fact and judgement. And, yes, some of the factual errors may not be errors, but propaganda and deliberate obfuscation. But we're not from the East Coast and what happens "out there" is as relevant to us (usually) as the last election in Afghanistan. As long as these papers get it reasonably accurate and fairly quickly, we're not going to look our gift horse in the mouth. After you have tried to eat a resturant meal with Limbaugh or Michael Savage blaring in the background, it is heaven to go home and look at both papers.

Posted by: Jim Speck at October 5, 2005 4:55 PM | Permalink

Tom and Jay you're completely -- deliberately -- missing the point about Louisiana. The White House floated a LIE that the Washington Post dutifully printed. When the LIE was pointed out, the Post printed a correction.

When asked whether or not it would reveal who in the White House lied, the Post huffily refused to do so.

The bottom line: The White House can float any lie it wants via the "unnamed sources" FRAUD and get away with it.

Of course all you neo-fascists care about is dissing local government the better to draw attention away from massive BushCo. failures, but so be it.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at October 5, 2005 4:57 PM | Permalink

Catrina --
I didn't suggest the Times "recuse" itself from telling the Judy Miller story; to the contrary, I, like Jay, suggested the problem has been that it has recused itself to date.
The paper has been absent without leave too often on this story; and when it does try to write about Judy, and itself, it does so in a manner so halting, so constrained, so disjointed (and so dishonest) that it's literally painful to watch.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 5, 2005 5:05 PM | Permalink

That was a low moment for the Post. What I wrote about it was: "sounds like the behavior of a palace press."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 5, 2005 5:06 PM | Permalink

Well the are the palace press -- and have been for some time. Never forget Woodward and Bernstein weren't -- and aren't -- friends. It was an arranged marriage to "balance" a story that thanks to some good solid reporting (in other words all the stuff that made Watergate imporant -- which is to say NOT "Deep Throat") it all got quite "out of hand."

Lucky us.

Dubbya isn't likely to self-destruct the way Nixon did, because he has no core beliefs -- even of the most specious Nixonian kind -- whatsoever.
As Gary Trudeau has pointed out, he was the guy who bought the keggers And he's STILL in charge of buying the keggers.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at October 5, 2005 5:34 PM | Permalink

You make many excellent points, Jay. A few additional glimpses through my very specific lens on the world: book publishing, and electronic information.

The only point in Miller and the NYT's defense is that you and the media at large may have been far too quick to accept Ariana Huffington's third-party account of a book deal (updated today to a sort-of second-and-a-half party account). Particularly since one of the principals involved, Simon & Schuster president Carolyn Reidy, told my publication today, among other things: "What I said (but she didn't put on her site) was that there was no proposal, no discussions about a book, no discussion about money, no p&l created, no offer made, no signed deal. I was trying to be as definitive as possible in telling her her information was 100% wrong (which I also said)."

Huffington completely truncated Reidy's quote, context and meaning to make it look like she was parsing words instead of providing a blanket denial. By any standard at NYU or any real journalism, Huffington's sourcing stinks, and she's blatantly manipulated her quotes and reporting to serve her story and keep the traffic coming in.

Where the NYT erred--and continues to err--is in not even getting a specific on the record explanation from Miller of her plans, if any, to seek a book deal.

For us in publishing, however, that's no surprise; in our little world, not only is the NYT not the best newspaper in the country, it's a second-rate paper, committing errors both of commission and omission on a regular basis.

The notion of the Times' greatness is legacy more than something they earn today. It's still a paper that employs some great reporters and produces some great work--but they would like to remain in a paradigm in which their very best work gives institutional authority (a free pass if you will) to everything they do, and I think that's where we have all gotten smarter. Helped along by the bloggers and reporters at smaller papers who also do great work that can now be more easily recognized and trusted without needing the blessing of institutional authority. (Of course it cuts both ways; Huffington got attention for her post because we already recognize her for other work. If her blog reporting remains this sloppy, though, she'll lose that authority quickly.)

But as other posters have pointed out in various ways, the Post doesn't necessarily qualify for top slot, particularly if you are using the Judy Miller lens. The Post has had the same kind of problem of divided allegiances and priorities with Bob Woodward for years--and certainly with Deep Throat, the interests of the newspaper and its readers have consistently come second to the personal interests of Woodward and his book career.

Interestingly, I can see this process getting worse all over: as newspapers come to rely on star reporters for their authority more than the organization as a whole, the star reporters will be acting with their personal interests in mind foremost. As that process kicks in, those star reporters will realize they can do as well or better as independent blogger/columnist-types--they don't need the big newspapers for authority, or funding, along with the accompanying restrictions. And then compiling a list of any great newspapers will get harder and harder.

Posted by: Michael Cader at October 5, 2005 6:24 PM | Permalink

Let my subscription to The NYT lapse a month or so ago and I only miss it on Sundays- it was the third or fourth paper I was looking at most days.
Biggest disappointment is that The Times and Miller affair was supposed to have something to do with First Amendment/public's right to know, etc., etc. but The Times has absolutely refused to let readers or op-ed writers sound off against the position they've staked out. Now I admit I haven't followed the letters or eds closely lately but I doubt much has changed. And Keller's response whenever it comes really shouldn't be the whole story. Let's hear from some folks on The Times pages who think:
1. Miller went to jail for violating federal law just as she should have and
2. An investigative reporter who can't satisfy herself that a confidentiality waiver is freely given over a 9 month period before incarceration but miraculously can after serving an "appropriate" amount of time in jail, maybe shouldn't be writing for The Times anyway.

Posted by: patrick mattimore at October 5, 2005 7:29 PM | Permalink

So, to summarize:

The NYT and/or the WaPo are "No. 2 in every sense of the word," "Pravda," "fishwrap," "poisoning your mind with misinformation," "nothing but agenda-driven partisan hackery," "monoculture(s)," and (only slightly exaggerating) "knee-jerk, hide-bound psuedo-intellectuals engaging in a self-congratulatory soap opera of dysfunction."

Whew! Those are some great zingers! Particularly that last one!

My question: Compared to what?

Compared to the ideal concept of newspaper? Fair enough. But if the ideal is the standard by which we are to judge everything, how might we judge our other institutions?

Paging Dr. Plato...paging Dr. Plato...

Posted by: Daniel Conover at October 5, 2005 7:52 PM | Permalink

My question: Compared to what?

Compared to a reasonable, achievable standard of what a newspaper ought to be.

Compared to what the blogosphere actually is.

It's an academic question, really. Neither the NYT or WaPo will be significant in five years time.

Posted by: Evil Pundit at October 5, 2005 8:59 PM | Permalink

Sorry EP, but this quote implies otherwise - there will always be a red-meat audience that hungers for Dowdisms, etc.

Name 3 great WaPo op-ed writers who match Dowd, Friedman, and Krugman?

To paraphrase Churchill, these op-ed writers are "matchless".

Posted by: Fen at October 6, 2005 12:12 AM | Permalink

Thanks for some meaty and interesting comments, everyone.

Michael Cader: I wanted to reply to your analysis, excellent as it is. The parallel, Miller to Woodward: I do think over time he became a liability to the Post as the journalism in his books turned into something not quite journalism or history, but a subgenre of his own: you'll-just-have-to-trust-me (even though my methods don't inspire trust) books.

Also I think you are right: the way trust is built online revolves around individuals, and the smart news organization will promote these new "voices." But then the people with the voices (and user base) will realize they have the authority themselves, and can strike out on their own with no substantial loss. What becomes of the "great" news organization?

Re: The Times..."They would like to remain in a paradigm in which their very best work gives institutional authority (a free pass if you will) to everything they do."

I think that's very true, and a key problem for the bosses and visionaries there. It prevents an accurate assessment of value added, which is a point I tried to make in my post on Times-Select: "If I were Martin Nisenholtz, one of my worries would be over-estimating the marketplace value, and misstating the unique selling proposition of a Herbert, a Maureen Dowd, a David Brooks."

Finally: All I said is that one ship pulled ahead of the other. That doesn't mean the lead ship isn't in disrepair or off course or too difficult to turn in rough seas. It could be all those things--or rusting at the same rate as the other big ships--and still be ahead.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 6, 2005 12:28 AM | Permalink

Brilliant column, thank you.

Just one thing: The Washington Post the best paper in the country? You must not live here! The print edition has some capable political and national reporters, and one or two interesting writers elsewhere. Otherwise, it's a corporate newsletter, a blandly self-congratulatory, Washington-insider's tip sheet.

The front page story placements are often a mystery, the op-ed columnists are unreadably dull with the occasional exception of Meyerson or Kinsley, the Style section is an embarrassment each and every day, filled with kitchen-table freelancers' pennysaver-style musings and amateurish, hamfisted film and arts writing. (The Times's A.O. Scott writes about the movies; the Post's Stephen Hunter writes about HIMSELF.) Press "critic" Howard Kurtz spoons out unserious, bite-sized media trivia that will offend no one powerful, least of all his employers at The Post and CNN.

The Post has no science writing to speak of. The Health and Home sections are, each in their own way, addressed to the dimmest of readers. Even the gossip column never has anything fresh or witty. Not discomforting Laura Bush any more than absolutely necessary seems to be the point.

While kissing up to power has always been #1 on the Post's agenda, it has never bled a drop for all the murders in black Washington; a paper with an editor or publisher who cared would have made the murders of the city's children a front-page cause 15 years ago.

The Times is defective all right, and increasingly so in ways that resemble the Post. But every day it has a dozen pieces I want to read, while I strain to find one in the Post.

Posted by: carolyn at October 6, 2005 1:21 AM | Permalink

Carolyn said it better than I did. I only disagree about Stephen Hunter and in the op-ed section, Colbert King. Why doesn't the Post run him on Sunday, instead of Saturday? He's won the Pulitzer and is a thousand times better than every other op-ed writer they have.

Posted by: lou at October 6, 2005 9:58 AM | Permalink


Perhaps the newspaper world can use an analogy from my area of study, the television networks’ half-hour nightly newscasts.

When ABC, CBS and NBC enjoyed their positions of monopoly, some 25 years ago, it was a frequent topic of discussion as to which newscast was superior. Nowadays, in the world of fragmentation, the useful questions concern 1) commodity--which network’s coverage of a commonly-known headline story is superior and 2) enterprise—the development of new beat, the revelation of some hitherto unheard-of news, the successful investigation of fresh background details.

In either case, the unit of comparison is increasingly the story (the “package” in TV terms; the “article” in newspaper parlance) not the newscast as a whole.

Online delivery of news will only hasten this process. The ties that bind one story to the next one are looser in the individually-addressable online world compared with the physical facts of a newspaper front page or the temporal logic of a continuous 30-minute newscast.

As monitors and consumers of journalism, we can expand our role to become facilitators and editors as well. By setting up a distributed regime of reading/viewing/checking/assessing stories online we should be able to mix-and-match individual reporting from a collection of mastheads, as it were creating our own interactive daily version of The Week.

On a daily basis we can have the discussion about whose reporting is #1: but apply it to each story individually rather than to the newspaper/newscast as a whole.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 6, 2005 10:05 AM | Permalink

I think it's rather pointless to nominate a single newspaper as leader of the U.S. pack. Different papers have differing strengths; for me, the Post's greatest virtues lie in its national coverage. I can leave the Style section behind easily; the San Francisco Chronicle's Datebook is far superior. (I don't know what I'd do withoug my daily Jon Carroll dosage.) For coverage of significant cultural events, however, the NYT's Arts & Leisure section on Sundays is still indispensable. The Los Angeles Times, in my opinion, has done a great job with long-form stories, but I see that Dean Baquet seems to think that shortening them will increase readership and provide more column-inches for advertising... an approach that will only provide more fuel for my inclination to let my subscription lapse.

We live in an age of 24-hour news networks. Instant information is available anytime we want it. Newspaper stories should become even longer; they should provide context and background to what we've already seen on CNN or MSNBC. Newspapers should become increasingly like newsmagazines were 40 years ago, in my opinion: examining the larger issues while still reporting on overnight occurrences on deadline. I don't buy four newspapers a day because I need to find out what happened; I can get that from CNN. I buy them because I want context, comment and intelligent analysis.


Posted by: Darren at October 6, 2005 10:14 AM | Permalink

Andrew Tyndall,

Well said, and I agree. Could you also address the aspects of "anchor" on newscasts (and the move away from such) and the lack of an anchor in newspapers.

The value in news is the story - done well and/or not done elsewhere. What is the value of the "brand" of a newspaper or a newscast - or an anchor?

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 6, 2005 10:26 AM | Permalink


The significant lesson that the broadcast television news industry has learned this year--the year that saw the departure of Brokaw and Rather and Jennings--is that nightly news audiences have barely changed despite the turmoil surrounding the face the reads the Teleprompter. ABC viewers do not even know from one night to another whether they will be watching Gibson or Vargas or Woodruff or whomever...yet they watch anyway.

Viewers tune in to watch the news not the newscaster!

Presumably the same is true for newspapers: readers read for the articles not for the masthead.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 6, 2005 10:43 AM | Permalink

Andrew Tyndall,

Thanks again. I think this harkens back to previous discussions about atomization (see here and here).


As Kaus points out, the market agrees with you.

P.S.: Here's an eye-opening graph comparing the recent performance of WaPo and the NYT. Will they feed Pinch to the mooses? [If enough people think that, the stock will start to rise-ed. The man's a genius!] ... 1:41 P.M.

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 6, 2005 10:57 AM | Permalink

The Judith Miller story brings up concerns about different standards for different stories and reopens charges of printing speculations that turn out not to be true.

These are eerily reminiscent of many articles by journalists about blogging.

Do journalists ask bloggers about standards and printing speculation because of their own concern about troubling events in their own profession? More importantly, does it limit their curiosity by limiting the questions to those that have a direct relationship to those concerns? What if the other questions, new questions, never get asked?

More on this here.

Posted by: Lisa Williams at October 6, 2005 11:03 AM | Permalink

Sisyphus --

That is an eye-opening graph, but it says more about the Post's business strategy than its journalistic aspirations.
Wall Street likes the WaPo Co. because it owns Kaplan, the huge educational testing service.
Kaplan's revenues dwarf all the rest of the company combined, including the newspaper. In fact, it can be argued that Donnie Graham bought Kaplan precisely to give the Post insulation. With Kaplan printing money like the U.S. mint, it suddenly matters less to Donnie, and to Wall Street, whether the Post's profit margin is 25% or 15% or even 5%.
Wall Street is less impressed with NY Times Co., which it sees as a more or less pure newspaper play, with all the baggage that involves.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 6, 2005 11:39 AM | Permalink

I could be wrong, but I don't think this press tour of hers is well advised. Right now most people do not know who Judy Miller is, and of those who do, most would not recognize her on the street if they saw her. I suspect it is in her interest to leave it that way.

Posted by: Alice Marshall at October 6, 2005 1:25 PM | Permalink

Many great comments here, as usual.

This is what I've learned here so far: The era of the "greatest newspaper in the land" may well be over, and they have no one to blame but themselves. The curtailment of bureaus nationwide, as well at worldwide, have left the "national" papers merely local. But, so what? This is the era of everyman (or person)is his/her own editor. (And please spare me your tired cliches about how people will only read/watch what they agree with----do you really want to go back 25 years to when there were only 3 networks and they all parroted the NYTimes? And besides, people so inclined already read/watch what they agree with)As someone mentioned above, we go for the news/information and not the brand, so we are able to glean the best of (or at least the most relevant to us) what is available on the web----and there's lots.

Case in point concerning the DeLay kerfuffle. If you read only Times-Democrat or WaPo, you just get the usual bromides: how does this hurt GWB/Republicans, help Democrats, advance the Democrat narrative of corruption and cronyism, etc, ZZzzzzz. For the real information go to the Austin Statesman.

Want to know about the latest terrorist attack on the USA? Forget Times-Democrat and WaPo, who evidently believe news doesn't happen in Oklahoma, and go to The Norman Transcript instead.

Many seem to forget that all the news doesn't emanate from the NYC-DC Axis---we have a vital and robust regional and local press, with reporters and editors as competent and as dedicated as those in the national press,and they are scooping the big boys.(Regional/local reporters may be better, because they aren't chasing celebrity, which some national reporters sometimes are)

The "national" press chose to be local when they shuttered their many national and international bureaus. But, so what? We've adjusted. (Well, some of us.)

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 6, 2005 2:36 PM | Permalink

This letter came from columnist and author Gene Lyons, a critic of the New York Times coverage of the Clintons in the 1990s. He's a former editor at Newsweek, and co-author, with Joe Conason, of The Hunting of the President: The Ten–Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.

So where's Jeff Gerth these days? Still earning a salary?

Much of what you write about the NYT's arrogance and resistance to journalistic scruples has been true for at least a decade, in my experience. I began writing about the absurdities in the NYT's Whitewater coverage in 1994.

In one sense, it was actually worse than Judith Miller's work, because any reasonably skeptical reporter with a working brain could figure it out. Correct the errors and fill in the blanks and the Whitewater "scandal" vanished.

Yet when I wrote articles and books doing that, the Times (and everybody in the DC press who feared it or wanted to work for it) ridiculed the work and consigned the (eventually dispositive) facts to the deep blue sea.

The NYTBR published a review calling my book Fools for Scandal a nasty book by a nasty man without citing a single error of fact. It remains unchallenged--partly because carefully fact-checked by Harpers editors--to this day.

It assigned an interested party, Neil Lewis, to review Joe Conason's and my book The Hunting of the President. (Stories he'd written were dissected in our book.)

Almost hilariously, Lewis chose to attack our credibility by citing the only NYT story in the entire Whitewater saga that the newspaper had deigned to correct--using as his authority the original, mistaken version. Needless to say, the paper declined to print our letter citing its own correction.

As near as I could determine, the NYT's relationship to K. Starr was precisely like Judith Miller's to Scooter Libby and the rest. He leaked, often inaccurately, they rushed into print.

The reaction I got, start to finish was this: "We're the NYT, and you're not."

I didn't expect to be loved for repeatedly pointing out that their reporting was lousy. What really shocked me, however, was that indisputable facts were pitched into the collective memory hole.

I later wrote a review of Eric Alterman's book for Harper's, containing the main lesson I learned from all this: the national press is now a celebrity press operating on Hollywood values. (Fame trumps facts, period.) I described what I called a "decadent" journalistic establishment, defined as an institution claiming the moral authority of an ethical code honored in the abstract, but rarely in practice.

I've really enjoyed your pieces on Judith Miller, and learned from them. Sadly, I find the NYT's collective behavior quite in keeping with its institutional character. In my view, it's a national tragedy.

Gene Lyons

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 6, 2005 2:38 PM | Permalink

In his comments and in his newsletter, Michael Cader makes four fundamental errors.

1. He takes Carolyn Reidy's comments about our discussion at face value without contacting me to run her statements by me or affording me the opportunity to respond.

2. He impugns my sources while having absolutely no idea who my sources are. I don't know what he is basing his judgment on, but my sources are, in fact, unimpeachable, which is why I was so unequivocal.

3. Does Cader really believe that Alice Mayhew, while visiting Miller in jail or having dinner with her after she got out of jail, had "no discussions at all" about a book? And does he also believe, as the New York Times reports, that Judy Miller is "uncertain whether she would write her own account, either in the newspaper or in a book"?

4. Most significantly, Cader vastly underestimates how damaging the book deal disclosure was to Judy Miller and the Times. At a time when Team Miller was desperately trying to deflect criticism of her, and circling the wagons around the story that Miller is a journalistic martyr, the news that she was cashing in on her newfound notoriety was, to say the least, not part of the game plan.  Is it any wonder that Miller, the Times, and Simon and Schuster would go into big-time damage control mode?

Posted by: Arianna Huffington at October 6, 2005 2:49 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: "... it suddenly matters less to Donnie, and to Wall Street, whether the Post's profit margin is 25% or 15% or even 5%."

I've heard others hypothesize that having a smaller profit margin (especially under an umbrella with a money press like Kaplan) might actually allow for better news journalism in print and TV. Less profit pressure = better news.

For example, I've heard that TV news was considered a public service money loser for networks, with entertainment the cash cow. When networks/media companies started demanding profits from TV news, the quality of the news suffered.

It seems very anti-capitalist to me, and I don't know that it's held true, but for the sake of argument ....

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 6, 2005 3:30 PM | Permalink

Gene Lyons brings up a good point---it's not the Times-Democrat, it's the Times-Liberal.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 6, 2005 4:08 PM | Permalink

"For example, I've heard that TV news was considered a public service money loser for networks, with entertainment the cash cow. When networks/media companies started demanding profits from TV news, the quality of the news suffered."

It's basic economics that markets for public goods and private goods clear at different points, so this is entirely plausible, although the usual difference is in terms of quantity (a profit-maximizing firm ceases production when marginal cost exceeds marginal revenue, a non-profit when total cost exceeds total revenue, thus the latter will produce further along the curve) than quality.

Posted by: Bezuhov at October 6, 2005 4:17 PM | Permalink

Well, the equation actually goes:

Less money siphoned into profits = more money available to gather the news = more and/or better staff = better news product.
That assumes of course that the executives doing the hiring choose talent wisely.
The catch is, until you try it, you won't know if the better product attracts more paying customers. It may not, because of entirely extrinsic factors, like the health of the local economy, new technology that blows you out of the water, unexpected competition, etc, etc.
So trying it is a scary proposition -- betting on the come, as it were.
Not many publishers are willing to say to an editor, "Okay, Jack, here's an extra $50 million. Let's see if that high-minded theory of yours holds any water."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 6, 2005 4:20 PM | Permalink

I just tried to do a trackback from a Blog Critics piece I'm writing to your column but your site gave an error message.


I, for one, am happy to see Rove having to return to the grand jury.

I'll post a link when it's posted there.

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 6, 2005 6:01 PM | Permalink

Back to Ariana, though Jay, since I don't know to reach her. Her comments here are directly comparable to her blog posts: a lot of bluster, without much to back it up.

1. I don't take Carolyn Reidy's comments "at face value"; I quote her directly, at length, without manipulation or edits. That's called reporting.
And in those quotes, Reidy says Ariana grossly manipulated their conversation. (And she's said it in front of her entire professional community, unequivocally. If she's really lying, that will have impact down the road.)

Ariana's had the chance to respond here--but have you noticed she didn't?

2. I impugn Ariana for the type of sources she relies on. Sources who say what friends of the principal says are not sources; they are people who heard something third-hand. That's not journalism, and it doesn't establish fact. (In court, that would be double hearsay.)

3. It would not surprise me that Mayhew and Miller have discussed a book. We know they've visited and spoke. What Reidy (and S&S publisher David Rosenthal) both say is that Mayhew hasn't come to them asking to buy the book, or proposing a sum to pay. Reidy is saying she hasn't had any discussions--and Mayhew could not buy the book, or tender anywhere near the sum that Ariana "reports," without Reidy or Rosenthal approving.

4. Whether Ariana's disclosure is damaging or not to Miller and the Times has nothing to do with telling us the accuracy of Ariana's report.

It has brought Ariana attention, and made her feel important and connected; it probably has negatively impacted any deal that Miller and a publisher might eventually consummate; but there's still no evidence to support the report.

And there is evidence, not yet refuted, that Ariana manipulated the quote from a key source to serve her purpose.

The story is logical; it's easy to assume it to be true based on Ariana's very thin reporting, which is part of why it took off. But in my community, and in my publications, we like to try and establish if things are actually true. It's easy to get attention as a blogger; it's harder to get attention and maintain same standards of accuracy.

Posted by: Michael Cader at October 6, 2005 6:36 PM | Permalink

Kaplan's revenues dwarf all the rest of the company combined, including the newspaper. In fact, it can be argued that Donnie Graham bought Kaplan precisely to give the Post insulation.

Somebody does not know how to read a 10Q. It may be true that most of the revenue comes from Kaplan, but most of the profit comes from the media properties, specifically the TV stations. Up until very recently Kaplan was losing money and even now has only the thinnest of profit margins.

Posted by: Alice Marshall at October 6, 2005 8:07 PM | Permalink

Ah, here we go:

Good piece, Jay.

Posted by: Scot Butki at October 6, 2005 8:31 PM | Permalink

The source is the person Huffington spoke to. Ariana posted this: "I just talked to Carolyn Reidy, president of Simon & Shuster, who told me, 'There is no signed deal for the book -- and no projected P & L.'"

If you know the publishing business, that sounds like a Clintonian parsing of words to avoid getting caught in a lie, since deals don't get "signed" until months after they are brokered.

But Reidy says (in part): "What I said (but she didn't put on her site) was that there was no proposal, no discussions about a book, no discussion about money, no p&l created, no offer made, no signed deal. I was trying to be as definitive as possible in telling her her information was 100% wrong (which I also said)."

On the sourcing, Huffington reported this: "Sources tell me that Judy Miller is telling friends that she has made a $1.2 million book deal with Simon & Schuster."

That type of source would never make into a professional publication. It would never get into a court. Even if 100 percent accurate, it's still unconfirmed gossip. Put against a blanket denial from one participant (S&S) and similar one from the agent, I don't understand how you trust Huffington's source until proven wrong. And I don't get how a reporter writing what someone said someone else told them a third person said accrues the authority of fact.

Posted by: Michael Cader at October 6, 2005 10:36 PM | Permalink

Michael wrote:
"That type of source would never make into a professional publication. It would never get into a court. Even if 100 percent accurate, it's still unconfirmed gossip.

I bet if I tried I can find several articlesin traditional newspapers like the Post that wrote about rumors Miller is talking about selling her story as a book deal.

So I don't think your comment is quite accurate.

Whether that means newspapers - like Huffington - shouldn't be printing rumors is another question entirely.

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 6, 2005 11:48 PM | Permalink

Exactly. I'm not sure what that says. Do we believe nothing in blogs because some are less credible than others?
Does that mean you don't believe what you read here?

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 7, 2005 12:38 AM | Permalink

These are desparate times in journalism and the actions of the New York Times over the past few years mirrors the industry as a whole: confusion over the change and acts of desparation on stemming the loss of readers and prestige.

Poor MSM. Can't buy a break. Just last week they were getting slammed for reporting rumor in New Orleans. Now they're being creamed for NOT reporting rumor in Oklahoma in the case of the kid who blew himself up at the OU game.

According to the FBI there no evidence of Islamic terrorists in Soonerland. But tell that to blogs.

Maybe we should all just quit and read novels.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at October 7, 2005 12:57 AM | Permalink

Best Pressthink comment thread *ever.*

Posted by: Lisa Williams at October 7, 2005 2:35 AM | Permalink

I thought when I read Miller's articles they WERE novels, or at least fiction.
I satirized the concept for fun one day :

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 7, 2005 9:44 AM | Permalink

My question: Compared to what? >>>>>>

I'm the author of "that last one." My answer: Compared to their own self image. Compared to what they think they are.

The old saw that 'asking a reporter about liberal bias is like asking a fish about water' is true. Journalists so often posture for the approval of other journalists - who in the Washington D.C., NYC, and L.A. media centers, are themselves 80% libs or more, and the consensus self-selects a certain sort of person for promotion.

The failure of large media outlets to develop even a basic competence in firearms is a particularly telling case in point. The Handgun Control Inc. position is assumed to be the DEFAULT position, because that is what these kids coming into the newsrooms and writing these stories IN THESE CITIES grew up with.

The New York Times is not the only outlet to fall into that trap. And outside of the editorial pages, it is not even the worst offender. But it is the most piously self-righteous, and therefore the easiest target.

Why on earth should it by the Public Editor who has to publicly shame that disaster-in-her-own-right Gail Collins to adhere to a corrections policy that the rest of the reality-based community takes in stride as one of the foremost obligations of solid journalism?

Why is that Calame's job, and not Bill Keller's? Is Keller just sleeping through this embarrassment that Collins' editorial page has become (Case in point, repeating several times that Brown and Allbaugh were college roommates, a meme that seems to have survived because it was passed around the fever swamp from liberal writer to liberal writer and ASSUMED true.)

Why was it ASSUMED true? Why did nobody bother to check it until Calame? Well, because everybody at that desk thinks alike, that's why. And it hurts the Times' coverage.

The Times recently published a telling correction: It has come to the attention of the New York Times that the Medal of Honor is NOT an award given to songwriters. In fact, it seems that it may have something to do with military service.

What the hell kind of reporter, editor, fact-checker (they DO have those at some level, right?), layout artist, and whoever else might have seen that page doesn't know what the Congressional Medal of Honor is?

Answer: Ones drawn from a demographic which contains 7 of the lowest 10 per capita armed forces recruiting zip codes in the nation.

The New York Times sits smack dab in the middle of that fever swamp. Think that doesn't affect coverage of national stories?


Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at October 7, 2005 11:54 AM | Permalink

"The old saw that 'asking a reporter about liberal bias is like asking a fish about water' is true."

This is a non issue, anyone who uses it isn't a critical thinker, just a-biased-against-news they-don't-like-sort. It's circular logic at its best.

Posted by: EH at October 7, 2005 12:08 PM | Permalink

Okay, EH. I mean okay about the fish analogy being brainless.

However, you might want to address the Medal of Honor issue and try to find an answer that doesn't actually sound like fish not noticing their water.

It would probably be something like when the WaPo smeared evangelicals as poor, dumb, and easily led. Of their many excuses, one was they thought everybody knew this. Another was that nobody involved in the story knew an evangelical. None of their excuses differed materially from the fish-not-noticing line. When you don't notice the water, so to speak, you don't know what you don't know. You don't know that what you think is wrong. And there's absolutely zero impetus to check. None. It would be like a flagpole in a two-dimensional world. It cannot exist nor be imagined. And the need for fact-checking stuff like this cannot possibly be imagined.

Posted by: RichardAubrey at October 7, 2005 12:33 PM | Permalink

OK, I'll bite. When exactly did this correction in the NYTimes on the Medal of Honor occur? Details might help make your spleen venting a little more meaningful.

And it's Medal of Honor. There is a Congressional Medal of Honor Society but the medal doesn't carry the Congressional tag.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at October 7, 2005 12:43 PM | Permalink

Never mind. Found it.

This is from your Corrections pages, January 23rd:

"An Op-Ed article last Sunday about the Plaza Hotel misstated details about an award given to the songwriter George M. Cohan. He won the Congressional Gold Medal, an award also given to other songwriters. He did not win the Congressional Medal of Honor. "

That's evidence of liberal bias? A blunder, yes. A deeply stupid one. But it reads more like someone's inattention.

But if it makes you happy.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at October 7, 2005 12:47 PM | Permalink

"That type of source would never make into a professional publication."
-Posted by: Michael Cader

Does the name "Curveball" mean anything to you?

Posted by: James at October 7, 2005 1:33 PM | Permalink

Agree with many posters above. The NY Times is a shell of it's former self. It completely ignores stories or buries them in the back if they don't fit their editorial agenda. I know in advance how any article in the NY Times is going to be headlined (if GOP president the glass is half empty, if DEM president, glass is half full)(If sandy berger is involved bury it in the back, if bush campaign advisor involved-front page)(if new liberal talk radio network "Air America" is starting up give it lots of praiseworthy "news" articles (if same liberal radio network is stealing from the Brooklyn Boys & Girls Club in your home region, ignore the story for a month)(if same network has horrible ratings and numerous legal issues, ignore this as well).
You cannot predict in advance how the editorial page of the washington post will write (although left of center they are open to persuasion)-you can write the NY Times editorials yourself-blind partisanship with no consistency.

My favorite most recent example was the Spring 2005 editorial oppossing Army Corps of Engineer mississippi river levee funding as "pork" combined with editorials lambasting Bush for notspending money on flood prevention in September 2005.

or how about NYTimes editorials saying Filibusters are bad when Clinton was president vs saying filibusters are good when bush was president.

I used to be asubscriber to the NY Times but I refuse to ever buy one again. I now subscribe to the washington Post National edition.

Posted by: Baba O'Reilly at October 7, 2005 2:35 PM | Permalink

The real overriding trouble to the Judy Miller journalism story is really that Sulzberger has given her so much obvious protection.

If you look the whole picture for a while, the reason for particulars lead back to a shared political view in which the WMD prevarication/exaggeration is acceptable and the Plame business an unfortunate incident.

It's some form of end-justifies/excuses-the-means problem. And looking over the record, the best guess of their common ground from the record both have in print is a vehement set of views on Middle Eastern affairs that is Israel-centric and, well, rather consistent with the views and talk of the Israeli Right or the 'pro-Israel' American Right.

Of course the NYT will reflect their readership and desired readership and New York and immoderacy and bad judgment in various ways. But I can't escape the impression that the corrupted journalism that marks their Iraq coverage and coverage and representation of the game around Iraq in Washington, Miller being a case in point, results from a willingness to bias or tolerate badly warranted bias for which the responsibility traces upwards from Miller to Sulzberger.

Institutions come to reflect the personalities and flaws of the people who control them. Jason Blair found, exploited, and exposed the great defects to Raines. I'd say Judy Miller manifests and exposes Sulzberger similarly.

Posted by: Joe Kupov at October 7, 2005 3:16 PM | Permalink

Well, the fact that you can look at an editorial staff that doesn't know what a Medal of Honor is and call that "someone not paying attention" is evidence of how far gone the problem is.

A blunder is mismatching photos and captions.

A blunder is screwing up an Op-Ed piece and crediting it to Justice Roberts when he, in fact, did not write that piece.

A blunder is screwing up the difference between I series and EE series bonds. (I'm personally guilty of that one, and I still wince, years later.)

All these are evidence of a failure of process, of checks and balances, and of simple human error. I'm sympathetic to that, believe me. But they are not indicative of a fundamental and gaping chasm in the fund of information of the editorial staff.

Blowing the Medal of Honor distinction, arguably, is, particularly in light of many other technical errors regarding basic military knowledge.

Oh, and simply asserting that anyone who uses the 'fish out of water' analogy is not a serious thinker, absent any further argument, evidence, or demonstration, is evidence that the one making the assertion is himself not a serious thinker. '

As Lincoln said, "calling a tail a leg don't make it a leg." You assert that it's "circular?" I'm not sure you know what "circular" means. You seem to misuse the term here.

One advantage the Washington Post has over the NY Times is close proximity to Northern Virginia and lots of military people. Which contributes to having an editorial staff of people who grew up around military people.

The coverage of military matters in the Washington Post is consistently superior to the NY Times, I believe, for that reason. I very rarely notice the Post making the kinds of bonehead errors the Times does almost every day.

I also tend not to see them bury the biggest story of the day in the 20th paragraph of a story headlined "4 GIs Killed in Car Bombing," which is a favored technique of the New York Times, and one they use on a near daily basis - much to the detriment of their readership.


Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at October 7, 2005 5:17 PM | Permalink

Regarding this Medal of Honor back and forth...

If McLemore is correct in his citation of the correction, it appears the error in question (mistaking George M Cohan for a military hero) occurred in an Op-Ed article, and was therefore not even written by a NYT staffer.

It seems like a thin reed on which to impose blanket accusations against an entire cadre of correspondents, none of whose members penned the offending piece.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 7, 2005 5:53 PM | Permalink

I´m an English born (lived there for 5 years as an adult)South African living in Brazil.

Over the last couple of years I´ve noticed a disturbing trend in all MSM in the countries I have known of staff journalists silence in the wake of their superiors antics. No difference across the Westernised Globe.

About a year ago, a friend (R.Rose - source declared) in South Africa who writes a lot about directors pay increases despite huge company losses tried to refuse his own massive pay rise as senior reporter. The logic behind his thinking was that how could he as a journalist criticise whilst repeating similar action. You can imagine the response. They flat out refused to lower his increase. He was told to give the money away if he wishes but not to rock the boat. He was baffled.

We talked about this for a while. The only conclusion that we could come too was that the media giants and the senior editors in fact are very threatened by the free thinking maverick antics of there journalists and reporters. It scares them to think that when they have an internal story that needs to be aired, they do not have control of their staff. Is it that nearly all MSM is today is controlled by big business that have fattened the wallets of editors to tow a financial / political line.

Could it be why the likes of the NY times perpetuated a code of internal silence through concern over share price instead of journalistic integrity.

I find this blog fascinating. To go off topic a little. I was reading your blog about the Democratic Media response to Katrina. From the outside we do not see conflict of opinion in the media. It appears that your media and by definition of American media power the people of America are one flock of sheep.

Everyone loves a war in America. When the war is going wrong everyone hates war and see how badly New Orleans misses our troops.

Distinguishing any differences of American opinion outside the states is difficult. To the rest of us we see CNN. CNN by and large supports the war - so America supports the war. CNN questions Bush´s future plans in the Gulf - we see Americans reacting to the pain of the costs of the war (financial and human). CNN reports that the recovery operation in NO is a disaster. We do not see a Democrat trying to jumping at the chance to point out a racial crisis. We see a racial crisis. One mass of a central American line.

My eyes are being opened by this forum. I am being educated - THANK YOU... I´ll try to tell the rest of the world about it.

Posted by: Mish at October 7, 2005 8:58 PM | Permalink

Here is the best commentary I have found on this post; in fact, it understands more than I did when I wrote the damn thing:

Peter Levine (a practical political philosopher, University of Maryland, who writes a blog about democratic politics.)

The Judith Miller story reflects a deeper problem than mere error. As she investigated the Valerie Plame case and faced a subpoena for her information, Miller became part of a classic Washington story about the secret behavior of powerful people. The extraordinary list of her visitors in jail (John Bolton, Bob Dole, Tom Brokaw) illustrates how close she has come to power, and how tightly linked are our media leaders and politicos. Jay notes that "Miller is a longtime friend of the [Times] publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. They socialize. It’s not a scandal, but it is a fact."

Indeed, it is the Times' traditional role to get close to the powerful; to offer coveted space in its news columns in return for information. Thus Sulzberger, Brokaw, Bolton, Dole, and others like them move in similar circles, as do reporters like Judith Miller. Readers potentially benefit from those connections, when the Times presses to reveal as much as possible from its exalted sources. That, after all, is the heroic story of the Pentagon Papers and Times v Sullivan.

Miller, however, became a newsmaker, a decision-maker, someone with information that she could deploy strategically. She did not choose that role: a subpoena dragged her into it. However, her contacts, her friendships, and all of her tactical choices underlined her close connections to insiders and "newsmakers." This impression presented a challenge to the Times, whose role is to explain what decision-makers are up to. We want to assume that some have power and others gather independent knowledge about them; the state and the press do not mix. But here, through no deliberate choice of Miller's, the lines were blended.

It was then the responsibility of the Times to show that it was a trustworthy explainer. Every instinct should have pressed the newspaper's editors and staff to extract information about its own reporter and to explain what she had done. Instead, the Times' coverage of Miller's legal predicament has been confusing, low-key, half-hearted, and passive. Its columnists have been virtually silent. And it is has issued no meaningful public statements or press releases.

The implicit deal that the Times offers is this: We will cozy up to the power-brokers, but we will do it in your interests, so that we can keep you informed about their wheeling and dealing. When the Times becomes a power-broker itself, the deal comes into question. At that moment, the editors should understand that their whole justification is at stake, and they should rush to serve the public's "right to know." Failure to do so raises fundamental questions about the value of the New York Times that go far beyond any cases of misreporting or run-of-the-mill bias.


Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 7, 2005 10:25 PM | Permalink

I have to add one caveat:

We do not know that Judy Miller didn't choose to be a decisionmaker.

Because Judy Miller was printing the Bush administration's own story as told to her by their imaginary "witnesses," the Wilson flap directly challenged her own credibility as well as that of the Bush administration. Peter Levine doesn't know that Judy Miller didn't go to the White House to help take down Wilson (as her legendary temper suggests she would have) any more than I know she did.

We can agree to leave her intentions out of the story for the time being, but that also means that, like the New York Times, we are agreeing not to pursue a potentially central part of the story.

It is not only possible but likely that Judy Miller, like Sulzberger, has been a decisionmaker for this administration--by choice--for several years now. Let's not agree on "the rest of the story" before we actually know what it is.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at October 7, 2005 11:19 PM | Permalink

Levine drops the WMD angle that makes Wilson's story personal for Miller. Dropping WMD is dropping a central thread that ties Miller to the whole rotten mess that the Times refuses to seriously report about. Let's not help them with their revisionism, they're doing just fine on their own.

Alexander Cockburn:
"A huge percentage of what Miller wrote was garbage, garbage that powered the Bush administration's propaganda drive towards invasion.

What does that make Miller? She was a witting cheer-leader for war. She knew what she was doing.

And what does Miller's performance make the New York Times?"

Posted by: Mark Anderson at October 7, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink

If I'm not mistaken in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the James Cagney film about George M. Cohan, the screenwriters also mistakenly had Cohan winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Also, many outlets report that Cohan won the CGM posthumously but this congressional link says he got it in 1936.

Anyway...if you google Cohan and Medal of Honor you will see that many places screw it up...not sure all of them are damn, dirty, military-hating liberals.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at October 7, 2005 11:46 PM | Permalink

We will cozy up to the power-brokers, but we will do it in your interests.

While I don't exactly disagree with Jay or Peter Levine, it is odd that Judith Miller's intermingling with the powerful is a special source of concern. Haven't they noticed former high-ranking Democratic staffers Tim Russert and George Stephanopolus hosting the Sunday shows? Isn't Matt Cooper (whose behavior is always held as a contrast to Miller) married to Democratic strategist and top Hillary adviser Mandy Grunwald? Todd Purdum to Dee Dee Myers? Christiane Amanpour to Jamie Rubin? Whose interests are being served, first and foremost?

Or is it only problematic when the interests appear to coincide with a Republican administration? Or, pace Joe Kupov, when the reporter and her publisher are Jewish?

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at October 8, 2005 12:05 AM | Permalink

I guess my question is whether the whole issue isn't something of a red herring. Was there ever really a period when the Times wouldn't have "circled the wagons" around a Judith Miller? Was there ever really a time when the journalistic culture at the Times was not subject to influence based on the personal relationships of the reporters to the editors and publishers?

Isn't it entirely possible that the Times is just as good (or bad) as it ever was -- and that what has changed is the environment in which a paper like the Times functions?

Posted by: ami at October 8, 2005 3:32 AM | Permalink

That's a brilliant analysis by Peter Levine.
The Times coverage continues to be "confusing, low-key, half-hearted, and passive."
Today's story, for example, drives me nuts:

"The meeting is expected to focus on newly discovered notes compiled by Ms. Miller that refer to a conversation she had with Mr. Libby on June 25, 2003, according to a lawyer in the case who did not want to be named because Mr. Fitzgerald has cautioned against discussing the case."

Say what ?
Newly discovered notes ??
Discovered under what circumstances ?
And by whom ?
Fitzgerald ?
Miller ??
The maid ???

Isn't there anyone in the editing process who asks these questions ??  
Sheeesh !

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 8, 2005 12:02 PM | Permalink

Peter Levine's analysis flies in the face of Judith Miller's own words from the Berkeley conference Jay quotes in the previous thread:

"Miller indicated she's not apologizing for believing there were WMDs in Iraq until the president does. 'I think I was given information by people who believed the information they were giving the president,' she told Bergman. Ultimately, Miller said, she 'wrote the best assessment that I could based on the information that I had.'"

Miller tells us herself that she refuses to distinguish between her judgment as a reporter and the judgment of the state decisionmakers we thought she was reporting on (independently evaluating).

Peter Levine points to how Sulzberger and the Times' actions demonstrate effective agreement with her determination to become a decisionmaker by curiously dropping all discussion of Judith Miller's explicitly avowed identification with WMD decisionmakers long before Fitzgerald came on the scene. Why does censoring this part of the story make Levine's account more appealing?

Contra Levine, all signs indicate they chose to become decisionmakers long before Patrick Fitzgerald or subpoenas became involved.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at October 8, 2005 12:45 PM | Permalink

Good catch, Mark.

The Times is just getting killed on this story, day after day.

It's starting to be like watching a giant with his shoelaces tied together stumbling around the arena.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 8, 2005 1:44 PM | Permalink

Jay - can we have some examples of bad reporting from the Times? People (yourself included) don't seem to be supporting their claims that the Times does not accurately report the news. Can you point us to some bad stories to read?

Posted by: Eric Jaffe at October 8, 2005 4:17 PM | Permalink

Eric -- I would suggest that you start here.

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at October 8, 2005 5:31 PM | Permalink

EH. Wrong again. Try to keep your bile at home.
One of the reasons the WaPo was apologizing is that a couple of easily researched demographic studies shows evangelicals as being slightly above average in income and education. If they were easily led, there wouldn't be nearly as many brand names.

Or you could try the WaPo schtick and substitute "black" and in the end, put in your reference to their real loyalty. Maybe it would be fried chicken.

Double standard much?

The point about the Medal of Honor is not that it was bias that caused the confusion. There is no way that would help anybody forward any biased agenda.
The problem immediately was that nobody in the entire organization knew better. How do you get a whole bunch of people all together who are that dumb in a single direction? Accident?
Probability theory says no.
It could be that anybody who shows even the slightest propensity for knowing about that icky military stuff doesn't get hired. Or maybe there's some other reason they're all so dumb about military issues. Somebody should figure it out.
The second question is what happens when this bunch who are uniformly dumb as a box of rocks in this particular area report on it. Or have the opportunity to get a little smarts in the area.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 8, 2005 6:23 PM | Permalink

Eric says: Jay - can we have some examples of bad reporting from the Times? People (yourself included) don't seem to be supporting their claims that the Times does not accurately report the news.

Huh? Are you just reading the comments and skipping the posts? I don't think I have ever documented a case of bad reporting as thoroughly as I have in the last two PressThink entries, which show how miserable the Times journalism has been in the matter of Judith Miller, the Fitzgerald probe, and her stay in jail. This article in particular was completely inadequate-- an embarrassment to the organization.

I mentioned also the most spectacular and consequential case of "bad reporting" in recent years, which was the Times (especially Judy Miller) on weapons of mass destruction prior to the Iraq war. Here are Jack Shafer and Franklin Foer with overviews of that.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 8, 2005 6:51 PM | Permalink

Oh, man. I was going to write a media column this week saying that you, Jay, are wrong about the Times. But actions and thoughts of the last 24 hours - especially getting scooped again! - are making me change my tune.

I'm starting to think of the Times as being like
some date you pick up at a bar. Sure, it looks good at times but the next morning you look at it, compare it to the alternatives and go, ugh! What was I thinking!?

Do I win the bad analogy of the day award?

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 8, 2005 7:09 PM | Permalink

Fair enough, Jay. But you are indicting the work of an enormous institution that covers so much more than just what happens in Washington.

My larger point is that I think a lot of criticism of the Times stems from the fact that it is read far more closely and widely than any other newspaper. But I do agree that when there is a Washington-related story, the Post delivers it faster and more comprehensively.

But there is so much more that the Times offers that no other newspaper does - Style, A&L, the Magazine, just to name a few - that you seem to be overlooking when you assert that the Washington Post has claimed the position of the "greatest newspaper in the land." Maybe the WaPo has the most reliable political reporting, but that is not the sole role of a newspaper, nor should it necessarily be its defining characteristic.

That said, I cannot understand why the Times still employs Elisabeth Bumiller.

I now also see, Jay, that it's easier to get a response from you in comments than it is over email.

Posted by: Eric Jaffe at October 8, 2005 7:46 PM | Permalink

Richard Aubrey--

Since this thread is about Judith Miller, your complaint that she belongs to a culture that is unaware of the "icky military stuff" contradicts the repeated criticism of her that she is too close to the Pentagon, its WMD teams, its informants among Iraqi expatriates and so on.

Are you sure that Miller belongs to the gang that is "uniformly as dumb as a box of rocks" when it comes to her reporting on DoD activities? Most people complain she is too complicit in their worldview--not alienated from it.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 8, 2005 7:51 PM | Permalink

Andrew, the military/MoH issue was a subthread having to do with a howler the NTY made. I was suggesting a possible reason it happened and what it might mean in the overall reporting.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 8, 2005 8:31 PM | Permalink

EH. I let you use your bile to change the subject.
The WaPo was wrong. They not only apologized, they acknowledged the actual, factual error.

The original issue had to do with the fish not noticing the water in which he swims (why liberally-biased reporters have no idea they're liberally-biased). The WaPo's excuses were perfect examples of the fish not noticing the water. Or, in other words, the staff not only didn't know they were wrong, they were so sure they were right they didn't bother to check a factual assertion, and there was nobody--they said--on staff who might suggest checking. Since they all "knew" this stuff.
Sort of fish not noticing the water in which it swims.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 8, 2005 8:37 PM | Permalink

...a subthread having to do with a howler the NTY made. Wasn't it a howler the Washington Post made?

I think it is indisputable that the national press lacks people who have experience with and personal knowledge of the military and its culture. It's one of the more glaring absences in the culture of the press.

Here's an article that may interest some: Judith Miller and the myth of the ‘liberal media establishment’: "We are a different breed, journalists. Sometimes for better. Sometimes for worse. But a different breed nonetheless. And one whose actions cannot be explained in the simplistic terms of liberal vs. conservative."

Eric: Your e-mail asked about my travel schedule, and I was waiting for that to clear up before I answered you, so as to have an answer.

On your point here, you are exaggerating when you say I am "indicting" an entire institution. I am indicting the Times, but the indictment is about the Miller matter. What I said about the entire Times is that it's a great institution, but less great lately and will have to settle for ranking second in my estimation. The Washington Post has pulled ahead, said I, and the Times--still great--is second in the fleet. So where do you find an indictment of the entire Times?

If I said Yale had pulled ahead of Harvard in academic quality would that be an "indictment" of Harvard or an observation about the drift of the institution under Larry Summers? The Times is drifting, the Post shows more signs of mastering its environment. That's what I was trying to say. Perhaps it's a bit of a shock, and so it sounds like an assault on the entire newspaper.

I am a disappointed loyalist.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 8, 2005 9:18 PM | Permalink

I'm completely off topic but I just wanted to note I'm glad we met yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed the great job you and Lex did with leading our discussion.

As for anyone else who happens to read this post, if you get the chance to listen to Jay Rosen then I suggest you use it. You'll not be disappointed.

Posted by: Billy The Blogging Poet at October 8, 2005 9:34 PM | Permalink

"I think it is indisputable that the national press lacks people who have experience with and personal knowledge of the military and its culture. It's one of the more glaring absences in the culture of the press." - Jay

I don't think it's THAT absent, Jay -- posters like Jason Van Steenwyk notwithstanding.
But since the issue is raised, let me ask: Do we want editors who reflexively buy the military's take on things ?
For example, Barney Calame, the Times' public editor, served for four years as a junior Naval officer off the coast of Vietnam. Does that make him a better public editor ? I'm not sure.
At any rate, to the military's credit, it is trying to bridge that gap, probably more than the press is.
If you doubt that, look at any list of guest lecturers at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 8, 2005 10:30 PM | Permalink

Billy: Likewise, and thanks. It was a treat for me to be in Greensboro, NC and meet so many dedicated and engaged bloggers. And I loved sharing the stage with Lex. I also enjoyed meeting and talking with Daniel Conover of these threads.

Don't forget, PressThinkers: I will be on CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday, 10-11 am EST, with Glenn Reynolds, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, and host Howard Kurtz.

Steve: I didn't mean there were no ex-military in newsrooms, just not enough. To answer your question... No, we don't want reporters and editors who reflexively buy the military's take on things. But is that what ex-military people do?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 8, 2005 10:57 PM | Permalink

I don't think it's THAT absent
I was glad to see Jay's acknowledgement of the obvious. I'm don't think that Steve is aware of, or can even imagine, what such a presence would look like.

Do we want editors who reflexively buy the military's take on things ?
This is a non-sequitor. Why does it follow that reporters or editors with knowledge and experience with the military would "reflexively buy the military's take." There are several bizarre fantasies underlying such an illogical leap: that "the military" has "a take" that one should not "reflexively buy". Methinks that when someone says the word "military," Steve can only hear the phrase "5 o'clock follies."

For example, Barney Calame, the Times' public editor, served for four years as a junior Naval officer off the coast of Vietnam. Does that make him a better public editor ? I'm not sure. Huh? I thought we were talking about reporters. In any event, the simple fact of military service (or its lack), while potentially a very important starting point, is not the only gap in the media's reportage.

At any rate, to the military's credit, it is trying to bridge that gap, probably more than the press is. I thought there wasn't THAT much of a gap, Steve. Which is it?

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at October 8, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink

I have an empirical example, easily replicated by a quick search at the NY Times website, of the lack of military understanding which has far greater ramifications than the Medal of Honor example (although I found that to be an excellent and illustrative anecdote).

Two basic aspects of any military analysis, to place into context any casualties, relative strength of forces, and ultimate win/loss assessment, might include examination of "operational tempo" and the "order of battle." These and similar terms are frequently used by the milbloggers I tend to read. It appears that the term "operational tempo" has been never been directly used by a NY Times reporter since the start of the Iraq war. The term appears in exactly two news articles; in both instances, it is in a quotation. Michael Ignatieff also used the term once in a lengthy magazine analysis two years ago. Similar results are obtained with a search for "order of battle."

I submit that the reporting from Iraq has been fundamentally flawed and deeply misleading, as American casualties are constantly presented as in a telethon-like count-up, without any relevant context or military analysis. Moreover, there is no evidence that the MSM as a whole is even aware of its own ignorance, not to mention how that ignorance has ill-served the American public while aiding the objectives of the enemy.

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at October 8, 2005 11:19 PM | Permalink

IED was originally a bureaucratic euphemism before it became a household term, due to incessant repetition by the media.

A friend of mine, recently retired from Special Forces, made a similar observation: of all the military jargon he used in combat operations, IED was not nearly as commonplace a term as many others he used on a daily basis, but was the one that the media seized upon and became widely used by civilians. He was profoundly disappointed that none of the terms referring to US offensive operations was ever widely publicized.

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at October 8, 2005 11:59 PM | Permalink

Jay, good luck with the show tomorrow.

I just finished a piece where I touched on your blog here and Miller and the Times errors of late.

I'm with you on the Post being ahead of the Times but I'm not sure that's a new development.. just becoming more evident in recent months.

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 9, 2005 12:11 AM | Permalink

Jay. No. The NYT howler had to do with the MoH.
The WaPo and the evangelicals was another howler, but I didn't use the term. I referenced that incident to illustrate the validity of the fish-water accusation to which some have objected.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 9, 2005 12:21 AM | Permalink

Oh my column on your comments, The Times, etc. is

Incidentally I'm still getting an error which I click on your trackback link. Not sure if that's just me or what.

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 9, 2005 12:37 AM | Permalink

When is a voluntary waiver less voluntary than repeating the same voluntary waiver?

When the repetition is prompted by a letter from the prosecutor requesting cooperation from the target of the investigation, apparently.

Judith Miller's First Amendment cover story develops even more cracks.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at October 9, 2005 1:19 AM | Permalink

Further thought on NYT/MSM and the military.

Didn't a writer for the NYT lament the lack of stories of American heroism? Seems to me it was in the last six months.

What a maroon. He apparently doesn't know the MSM wouldn't publish those stories if they had them.
How do we know? The stories are readily available from DOD press releases or on blogs, especiall milblogs. I think it's safe to say that if you can get a story by a couple of keystrokes, then, as a reporter, you have the story. The only question is whether to follow it, or run it, or not.
Apparently the "or not" is so common that the MSM or at least the NYT doesn't even know the stories exist. These aggressive, hard-nosed, spare-no-expense-account journalists can't find this stuff and complain nobody's actually giving it to them.

So either they have corporately decided to pretend it doesn't exist, or they are so stupid in this area that they don't know. And when they do get a good one, they put it in the sports section. Somehow the MSM hasn't visualized transparency.

Suggestion for all those who are desperately trying to pretend that only hearsay from within the Green Zone is available: Pay Michael Yon a few bucks. He's already there. He pays his own way. His stuff is free, and on the web. He's an experienced soldier so he knows what's going on and can interpret it. He's a good writer. He goes where the stuff flies. For conscience' sake, hit the paypal for a couple of hundred and run his stuff.
Now you can't pretend you don't know how to do it.

Scratch that. You can keep pretending, and keep pretending we all believe you.

Maybe there really is a hiring test in the MSM. or at least the NYT: Can you tell a soldier from a tree? No? Good. You're hired.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 9, 2005 9:02 AM | Permalink

Ok, the edited version of my column is now up at Blog Critics.

I'm setting my vcr now to tape Jay on tv.

Posted by: Scott Butki at October 9, 2005 9:26 AM | Permalink

I submit that the reporting from Iraq has been fundamentally flawed and deeply misleading, as American casualties are constantly presented as in a telethon-like count-up, without any relevant context or military analysis. Moreover, there is no evidence that the MSM as a whole is even aware of its own ignorance, not to mention how that ignorance has ill-served the American public while aiding the objectives of the enemy.

The lack of use of military jargon is no more indicative of a "flawed and deeply misleading" reporting on Iraq than the lack of use of jargon used in social service programs is indicative of bad reporting on welfare programs.

Aubrey makes the usual wingnut assumption that "bad journalism" with regard to Iraq is a direct result of ideological biases --- but one need only look at the nature of the reporting prior to, during, and just after the invasion of Iraq, which was generally positive toward the Iraq debacle, and just as lacking in military jargon.

One would have to agree that using the "body count" metric as an indicator of progress in Iraq lacks nuance --- but that same lack of nuance worked in Bush's favor in the run up to the election, when the "operational tempo" in Iraq was reduced in order to avoid high casualties in the months preceding the Presidential elections. (Its not like the military's assault on Fallujah couldn't have occurred weeks before it did---that attack was delayed until after the election, solely for domestic political reasons.)

The paucity of Aubrey's argument is nowhere more evident than when he brings up the old bugaboo about how telling the American people the truth about Iraq is "aiding the objectives of the enemy" as if "the enemy's" objectives were to influence American public opinion. (Aubrey would have us believe that there was not continued widespread American public support for the war throughout the period when "the enemy" consolidated its operations and increased its "operational tempo.") Aubrey prefers to "shoot the messenger" rather than confront the failure of the policies he supports.

Posted by: ami at October 9, 2005 9:59 AM | Permalink

ami: The paucity of Aubrey's argument is nowhere more evident than when he brings up the old bugaboo about how telling the American people the truth about Iraq is "aiding the objectives of the enemy" as if "the enemy's" objectives were to influence American public opinion.

ami, are you asserting that we're being told the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth?) about Iraq? Are you asserting that the enemy's (I question your use of quotes there) objectives are not to influence American public opinion ("that half the battle against the Americans was played out in the media")?

You see, I don't think we're getting the truth about Iraq. That the truth doesn't fit into the narrow context container used by news organizations. I also don't think the press has come to terms with its role in enemy planning/objectives.

If I'm wrong, please enlighten me.

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 9, 2005 10:16 AM | Permalink

ami, are you asserting that we're being told the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth?) about Iraq?

We're getting a close approximation of the truth. The corporate media generally doesn't do nuance -- nuance doesn't translate into the kind of ratings and readership that translates into double digit profit margins.

Are you asserting that the enemy's (I question your use of quotes there) objectives are not to influence American public opinion ("that half the battle against the Americans was played out in the media")?

I used quotes around "the enemy" because there is no monolithic "enemy" in Iraq -- "the enemy" is practically amorphous. (Does "the enemy" include the Mahdi Army today?)

And no, I don't think that "the enemy's" tactics are designed to influence US public opinion --- or if they are, they are quite badly designed for that purpose. US public opinion has an extremely low priority for "the enemy"; their tactics seem to be aimed primarily at the Iraqi people, the Arab and Muslim world, and the international community in general. (This is especially true among the radical Islamists -- its rather laughable to suggest that they are concerned about public opinion of The Great Satan.)

Like most right wingers, your worldview is so egocentric that you read something like "half the battle against the Americans was played out in the media" and assume that its all about you (that "the media" is a reference to the American media, rather than the Arab/Muslim/international media.) The "battle against the the media" is all about gaining support for al Qaida in the Islamic world. The (supposedly authentic---unfortunately, we don't have faxed copies of this memo that we can examine with a fine tooth comb looking for evidence of forgery) letter from which this quote is drawn questions the tactics/targets of Zarqawi and his supporters because they "might undermine popular support for al-Qaida's cause." Its hard to imagine how one could "undermine" the non-existent "popular support for al-Qaida's cause" in the US. (In other words, you might try reading for context, and keeping in mind the actual context of a quote when you try and use it in an argument.)

Posted by: ami at October 9, 2005 11:08 AM | Permalink

ami: Like most right wingers, your worldview is so egocentric ...

I don't see where my questions were constrained to American media - (that "the media" is a reference to the American media, rather than the Arab/Muslim/international media.)

That seems to be more of an ideological leap, an assumption, on your part - not mine.

If it helps, I include not only American media, but also other Western and Arab media outlets. Especially international TV and wire services.

I also understand better now your frame for understanding propaganda. You discuss the media campaign of al Qaeda as just a recruiting tool for their own cause. There is a part of their media campaign that does perform that function.

But there have been a number of kidnappings, murders, communiques, audio and videos, directed at the public in Coalition countries - including America but not only America.

It seems to me that Zawahiri is encouraging a media campaign to break the will of the Coalition without offending Muslim sensibilities.

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 9, 2005 11:47 AM | Permalink

Any support afforded Miller by the left, left-leaning journalists and intellectuals over the Plame affair must be seen in the context of their disgust with her for her WMD reporting on Iraq. In short, any support shown Miller over Plame was given begrudgingly, perhaps even angrily, and certainly temporarily, by this crowd, which in the end embodies the bulk of "mainstream" journalistic opinion.

Miller has never been the journalist who resisted Fitzgerald over Iraq, but the great betrayer and WMD sycophant possibly mixed in too cozy with certain Bush figures who has now got herself in trouble.

I do believe mainstream opinion has been looking for its chance to turn on her--and so I do not think this is strictly the story of Miller in the context of Plame and an analysis that ignores the WMD backstory seems both incomplete and false.

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 9, 2005 11:50 AM | Permalink

Opps. Correction: "the journalist who resisted Fitzgerald over Iraq" should be "...who resisted Fitzgerald over protecting a source"

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 9, 2005 11:53 AM | Permalink


Do you see a parallel between Miller's position on her WMD reporting and other journalists' defenses of reporting from New Orleans?

Journalism I think can be forgiven in this case for believing a police chief when he says something under those circumstances, for believing a mayor when he says something under those circumstances, and for simply giving the American public access to people who are living with their living.

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 9, 2005 12:11 PM | Permalink

I don't see where my questions were constrained to American

insofar as the overwhelming majority of Americans have little or no exposure to the international media and thus cannot be influenced by it, when you ask:

Are you asserting that the enemy's (I question your use of quotes there) objectives are not to influence American public opinion ("that half the battle against the Americans was played out in the media")?

the logical assumption is that you are referring to the "American media". (The quote you cited had nothing ot do with "influencing American public opinion".)

Posted by: ami at October 9, 2005 12:22 PM | Permalink

ami. Your conscience is bothering you. I said nothing--zilch--about aid and comfort to the enemy. Must be projection or something.

Anyway, you haven't addressed my point about the NYT guy who wondered where all the good stories about US troops are. Close as his monitor, if he even though to look there. That he doesn't .....
See. He doesn't even know what he doesn't know.

I will say, though, now that you bring it up, nobody's been able to threaten the US on the battlefield since about 1944. Every, and I mean every, war in which we were involved had an expanded battlefield in which the most important terrain was the six inches between the ears of the American voter. It was the American voter who decided whether we would prevail--by voting for people who said they'd prevail or voting for those who said we should withdraw--and nobody in the world was stupid enough to miss that fight.

Whether the MSM are deliberately skewing the news or doing so out of negligence is one issue. What it means about the future of the war is another issue and is quite separate.

You can, if you would have the whosits to speak to soldiers, ask them what they think about the media coverage of what they've been doing. Stand back. One of the little thingies the MSM has missed is that the troops get the MSM in real time. And they write home. Or they blog. The MSM doesn't look good.
So, you tell some soldier that his head is up butt. Tell him that his lying eyes aren't to be trusted and the legendary legacy media have it right.

You may also want to think about the MSM's performance as it is compared to the "soldiers' samizda", the letters and phone calls and e-mails home which are shared by the family with friends and colleagues. I have no idea what you're going to do about that. Entirely too many people to tell them their heads are where they oughtn't be.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 9, 2005 12:22 PM | Permalink

If I didn't have a general antipathy for smiley faces, Jay, I would have included one after my last statement. Didn't mean to come off sounding angry. Look forward to hearing back from you.

Okay, perhaps "indictment" was too strong a word to use, but I still disagree with your conclusion for reasons stated. Even though I agree that the Post is showing more signs of "mastering its environment" than the Times has of late, there is still an enormous disparity in the quality of the two papers. The Post simply cannot match the depth of analysis that you find in every week's New York Times Magazine, Arts & Leisure, and Week in Review.

I think we were all impressed that the Post linked to Andrew Sullivan and now has "blog reaction" links to all of its articles. It certainly seems to be several steps ahead of the Times in adapting to the web environment. But who is the equivalent of the Times' Frank Rich? Or Virginia Heffernan? Or Kalefa Sanneh? There isn't any. As I mentioned, once you leave the arena of political reporting, the quality of the Post writing drops significantly, and the Times is still world-class.

Posted by: Eric Jaffe at October 9, 2005 1:23 PM | Permalink

The Times sense of self-importance is second to none. But it's been second rate for years... See quillnews post. TC

Posted by: fxquill at October 9, 2005 3:31 PM | Permalink

ami: insofar as the overwhelming majority of Americans have little or no exposure to the international media and thus cannot be influenced by it ...

Maybe, but consider ...

- Americans have unprecedented exposure to international media via satellite/cable TV and the Internet.

- Americans have unprecedented exposure to news from international media via American news organizations (print as well as TV and the Internet).

- Although information is still constrained by language barriers, it is not being constrained by America's borders. As more and more international media organizations make their products available in English, the language barrier has also diminished.

- The advent of Al Jazeera International will increase this exposure. (Perhaps a future PressThink essay?)

I do think the international media can influence American public opinion. We are not a walled garden.

I'm not arguing that's a good or bad thing. Just that the logic in your assumption, that I was only referring to American media, is flawed because I don't share your pretext that Americans - and American media - is not influenced by international media ... or vice versa.

The quote you cited had nothing ot do with "influencing American public opinion".

Again, I read this differently. When Zawahiri warns Zarqawi to focus on Americans and not on Iraqi civilians, he has both American and Muslim/Arab public opinion in mind. Four years since the 9/11 attack, AQ still has a strategic objective to demonstrate that American soldiers are "paper tigers" in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

From NYT:

The official said Mr. Zawahiri also warned that Mr. Zarqawi's forces should concentrate their attacks on Americans rather than on Iraqi civilians, and should refrain from the kind of gruesome beheadings and other executions that have been posted on Qaeda Web sites. Those executions have been condemned in parts of the Muslim world as violating tenets of the faith.
The letter states that even Mr. Zarqawi's admirers among Muslim commentators had questioned the wisdom of attacks by the predominantly Sunni Arab insurgents against Iraq's majority Shiite population, and it noted that half the battle against the Americans was played out in the media.

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 9, 2005 5:39 PM | Permalink

I'd extend Sis' remarks.

A great many people, mostly on the left, are concerned with what other people think of the US. What other people think of the US is in part a result of their media's reporting. Some use the opinions of other countries as reinforcement, "proof" that we should change our ways. That the Europeans think we're wrong is supposed to be important.
(Oxymoron championship, first place: "European Diplomacy" How many people have died of it? Hell, my father was shot in several countries straightening out European Diplomacy)
The more easily swayed can be influenced by the reference to world opinions. The opinions of what Moynihan referred to as "The Cannibal Republics" seems to be important to some and may have a domestic influence. Thus, international reporting may have influence here.
If it didn't, we'd never have anybody reporting on the opinion of the rest of the world as if it were important.
Since they do so report, maybe they think it is or ought to be important.
So, what informs foreign opinion cannot be meaningless.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 9, 2005 10:06 PM | Permalink

ami: I don't think that "the enemy's" tactics are designed to influence US public opinion

Clearly, a main goal of both Zarqawi and Zawahiri is the removal of US troops from Iraq. There are two ways to accomplish this goal:

1) Kill all 138,000 Americans in Iraq, six at a time, with IED's.

2) Cause enough casualties and general havoc to demoralize the American public, leading to political pressure to remove US forces.

Which do you think Zarqawi is attempting? If the latter, do you think the media play no role?

Do you think it is working? Is it working on you?

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at October 9, 2005 11:36 PM | Permalink

I heard Arianna Huffington on NPR's "News & Notes" rip into Judy Miller today with a vehemence that was startling. Her message: before Judy was the protect-a-source-martyr, she was the false-WMD-story queen, the Bush administration's willing tool, (Viz. my comment above.) She asks us to recall the disgraced pre-Plamegate Miller before we accord her any credibility or sympathy as the source-protecting Miller. Saying it again: Miller and Plamegate, for the left/center-left is not only about Plamegate, it's about WMD reporting.

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 10, 2005 12:48 PM | Permalink

Lee Kane--

You are absolutely correct that WMD and Plame are inextricably entangled in this story. This perception, however, is not confined to the "left/center-left." It seems to be shared at all points across the political spectrum, as it should be, because it is incontrovertible.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 10, 2005 1:10 PM | Permalink

Andrew -- I guess my point is in regard to one of Jay's--his being that the weight of journalistic opinion, once mostly behind Miller over Plame, has shifted now against her.

My point is merely that this wavering and collapsing of support is not just the story of Miller's behavior in this episode. I think in fact, this support was bound to collapse and that the "left"
journalistic establishment has been waiting for a reason to put Miller (back) on the pillory, because it has never forgiven her for the sin of writing articles that advanced a war the establishment opposed. That those articles turned out to be inaccurate make the sin doubly damning. Of course, there have been many inaccuracies in the press over Iraq, but these particular ones--almost alone--were in the Bush admin's favor and that is why unforgiveable.

I think we will see some real fury directed at Miller--for example, today, Huffington unleased--in the name of Plame but actually motivated at least partly by WMD.

The right has other reasons for looking askance now at Miller, but notice that they lack the left's fury. The difference? Her WMD reporting, IMHO.

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 10, 2005 2:08 PM | Permalink

Of course it's tied to her WMD reporting, and inextricably so, as Andrew notes.
What was the point of the attempt to discredit Wilson by outing Plame ? To preserve the WMD fiction, what else?
And if you want to preserve the fiction, to whom do you turn ? Well, to Novak, for one. But also to the reporter who, more than anyone, helped sustain the fiction before the war -- and that's Miller.
In that sense, it's all of a piece.
So, too, with Libby's weirdly poignant letter to Miller, in which he wheedles her to come out and play:
Come on, Judy, get out of jail, already; there's work to be done, other fictions to sustain --he even enumerates them -- and who better to do it than you?"
You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 10, 2005 3:17 PM | Permalink

Well, I guess Steve rides to the rescue. I don't even need to post an example of my thesis. He kindly offers to serve as an exhibit.

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 10, 2005 3:39 PM | Permalink

Re: The New York Times' recent lamenting that they don't publish enough positive stories about our soldiers and marines in Iraq because the Bush Administration doesn't publicize them well enough:

I responded to that in detail length here:

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at October 10, 2005 4:07 PM | Permalink

This may not be the appropriate venue to wade into the "Bush Lied About WMD, and Judy Helped Him" fray, but I honestly do not get this.

Anyone older than 15 remembers when John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, Robert Byrd, Henry Waxman, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Al Gore, the intelligence agencies of Germany and France, and the U frickin' N, with it's bazillion resolutions demanding Saddam prove he DIDN'T have WMD (I could go on, but why bother, the Bush/Judy Lied About WMD will never be convinced) said Iraq had WMD. Doesn't anyone remember Maddie Albright and the Clintons beating the war drums against Iraq in the '90s?

But to some, GWB just made up the claim that Iraq had WMD around 2003, and a supine press helped him.

Good lord, people, get a grip. All those people who "knew" Saddam didn't have WMD could obtain the phone number of Judith Miller or any other national journalist. I assume their numbers aren't unlisted. Where were all those who "knew" there were none?

I'd mention some cliche that hindsight is 20/20, but that fails the sniff test. Let those who "knew" come forward and tell us what journalists they contacted, but were blown off because the journos were caught up in war fever. I double dog dare ya.

The sad truth is that we would have NEVER known that Saddam didn't have WMD without going into Iraq to see for ourselves.

I'm not being disingenuous here, I really don't get it.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 4:17 PM | Permalink

aubrey writes:

ami. Your conscience is bothering you. I said nothing--zilch--about aid and comfort to the enemy. Must be projection or something.

here is what aubrey said originally...

there is no evidence that the MSM as a whole is even aware of its own ignorance, not to mention how that ignorance has ill-served the American public while aiding the objectives of the enemy.

so, Aubrey didn't use "comfort"....

I used the cliche "aid and comfort to the enemy" to describe what Aubrey was accusing the media of doing because that is precisely the argument he was making---and of course he knows it. Its the same old stuff we heard during VietNam, and its no more true today than it was 35 years ago.

Anyway, you haven't addressed my point about the NYT guy who wondered where all the good stories about US troops are. Close as his monitor, if he even though to look there. That he doesn't .....

one problem.... you are referring to a story that appears behind the Times archive firewall, and given your penchant for distortion, one is always well advised to not comment on such things as if they were established facts.

That being said, what is the function of such "heroism" stories? Individual acts of heroism may be "inspirational", but such acts occur on all sides of wars, and don't constitute "news" as such. In fact, those who insist that the lack of such stories is indicative of institutional bias are merely displaying their own desire for the publication of propaganda designed to encourage support for the war.

Posted by: ami at October 10, 2005 4:35 PM | Permalink

That's better. Lovelady and the wingnut brigade. Now that's debate!

Posted by: EH at October 10, 2005 4:52 PM | Permalink

Let those who "knew" come forward and tell us what journalists they contacted, but were blown off because the journos were caught up in war fever.

no one "knew" that Iraq had no WMDs, because no single individual was in a position to effectively rebut every single allegation that had been made, and its impossible to "prove a negative."

But there were highly competent critics of various factual assertions made by Bush in selling the war whose information was effectively ignored by the corporate media in the run up to the war.

But more critically, perhaps, is that well before the invasion of Iraq was undertaken, it was clear to those of us that were paying attention that the American people were being subjected to a full-scale propaganda war on the truth concerning Iraq and the threat it represented. We knew that the aluminum tubes story was bogus, for example. We knew that it was virtually impossible for Iraq to have maintained a stockpile of chemical (with the possible exception of Mustard gas) and biological weapons from pre-1991 stocks....and we knew that the inspections regime had looked at those sites that Bushco claimed were producing new weapons, and found out that the claims were groundless. Indeed, every claim made by the Bush administration that could be checked out had been checked out, and found to be without any foundation whatsoever.

Even so, people like myself thought that SOMETHING would have been found, but solely because it was inconceivable that Bush would invade another nation because of the WMD threat without incontrovertible evidence that the threat actually existed. We assumed that, in light of the incontrovertible evidence that Blix and el Baradei had compiled during the inspections process that the intelligence estimates were deeply flawed, someone would have reviewed the evidence on which those estimates were based BEFORE putting hundreds of thousands of American lives at risk and slaughtering tens of thousands of Iraqis.

To some extent, the fact that the corporate media seems to be turning on Miller may be tied to journalism's sense of guilt over its own gullibility in promoting the war in Iraq. Miller is being pilloried not merely for her own journalistic sins, but as a form of expiation for the sins of the entire corporate journalistic establishment. How many reporters, rather than be skeptical, took what the White House was saying at face value because Judy Miller was affirming those claims in the pages of the New York Times?

Posted by: ami at October 10, 2005 5:16 PM | Permalink

OK, ami, so it's true that no one "knew" that Iraq had or didn't have WMD before the war, but you say that "there were highly competent critics" who were ignored by the corporate media. I'm asking---who were those critics?

Name names, ami.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 5:47 PM | Permalink

Kilgore Trout--

You accurately remember the tone of the UN resolutions against Iraq, namely that Saddam Hussein's regime had to prove the negative--that it did not possess prohibited weapons. Hans Blix, for example, never asserted that Iraq had such an arsenal, only that the Baath regime had failed to produce the paperwork to document its destruction. Even Colin Powell presented many clues that such weapons might, conceivably, exist. Yet his only definitive assertion that Iraq violated resolutions was that it had failed to prove the arsenal's non-existence.

It is indeed disingenuous for you, Trout, to elide these modest assertions of technical violations with reporting that the weapons in fact existed. Miller was the leading exponent of this second type of journalism. Her front page stories repeatedly quoted sources making claims going well beyond Iraq's failure to prove a negative. Her post-war work embedded with the WMD chasers was facilitated through the same network of contacts. The same network of contacts sought to discredit Joseph Wilson.

Lee Kane's observation is accurate that Miller's relationship with this network of contacts seems to incense commentators with a left-of-center political ax to grind.

Nevertheless, just to summarize what has been said elsewhere above...

This network of contacts and how it works is the story here. It is a fascinating saga for all of us, whether it incenses us, amuses us, or makes us proud. Miller and The New York Times are in the best position to report on it. Everyone, at all positions on the political spectrum, would love to hear it. They choose not to tell us. So they are acting not like journalists but as wannabe power players. They should stick to their day job.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 10, 2005 6:04 PM | Permalink

Tindall:While I'm offended that you imply (or baldly state) that I'm disingenuous, I do agree that the "network of contacts" is the story here.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 6:44 PM | Permalink

Trout--no offensive intended. My point stands without the pejorative. My apologies--Tyndall

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at October 10, 2005 6:50 PM | Permalink

Good lord, people, get a grip. All those people who "knew" Saddam didn't have WMD could obtain the phone number of Judith Miller or any other national journalist. I assume their numbers aren't unlisted. Where were all those who "knew" there were none?

Get a grip yourself, Kilgore. No one "knew" Saddam didn't have WMD. But no one "knew" he did, either, and for good reason; he didn't.
It's like me declaring you a clear and present danger because no one "knows" that your house is not loaded with AK-47's and live grenades. True enough. We don't know that it isn't. But we don't know that is, either.

As for those who were highly skeptical, they were around, and they were picking up the phone. Problem was, no one listened to them the except for the Knight Ridder Washington team, whose stories never gained traction because KR has no paper in Washington or in New York. (And except for Walter Pincus, whose newspaper, the Washington Post, truncated and buried his stories about an intelligence community rife with serious doubts re WMD claims.)

None of this is news; it's known fact, first documented nearly two years ago by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books, and since amplified upon by many others. Indeed, both the Post and the Times have since apologized to their readers for letting themselves get played as suckers -- something that's never easy to admit. As Michael Getler acknowledged in his farewell column this weekend as ombudsman of the Washington Post, it stands as the most singular and consequential failure of the establishment press in this century to date.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 10, 2005 7:10 PM | Permalink

Thanks to Lovelady and ami for admitting that "no one knew Saddam didn't have WMD". That was my point. Everything else is 20/20 hindsight.

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 7:27 PM | Permalink

Talk about "chilling effect". Jack Shafer warns NYTimes (and others) to be careful what they wish for----they might get it!

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 7:42 PM | Permalink


Your use of such terms as "sucker" just doesn't fit here. You're acting as if certainty was possible on this question. What would you have estimated the chances were that Saddam possessed significant quantities of WMD in 2002, had you been forced to guess at that time? 20%? 40%? 60%? Can you honestly say zero?

If non-zero, given Saddam's record, given his violation of multiple U.N resolutions, given the mass murders, given the 22 other justifications for military action in the congressional resolution, can you not at least see why someone might consider at least listening to the case for war? their duty as journalists at least to report it? How is doing so being a sucker?

I'm sorry, but the gulf here is just bizarre, given the facility with which I can usually at least understand the ostensibly "left" arguments that seem more and more purely reactionary. Your position on WMD beggars logic.

Posted by: Bezuhov at October 10, 2005 7:45 PM | Permalink

Mr. Lovelady aptly points to the problem defending a position withan ad ignorantiam. It's not a fallacy for nothing.

Posted by: EH at October 10, 2005 7:52 PM | Permalink


That was your point ?
That no one knew a negative ?
Well, no one definitively knows that I am not a child molester. So that means we should assume that I am, and take appropriate action ?
No one definitively knows whether you pay your taxes -- or not. So that means we should assume you don't, and take appropriate action ?
No one definitively knows that Jay is not a space alien sent here to confuse our minds. So let's conclude he probably is ?
What the hell kind of test is that ??
I think I'll go next door and torch my neighbor's house. No one definitively knows if she's a witch or not.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 10, 2005 7:55 PM | Permalink

And it floated right on by trout, no doubt still swimming in oxygen depleted waters. If no one knew they didn't still have the WMD then of course, they could have. Except the preponderance of the evidence indicated that was a slim chance at best. Ockham's razor would side with having lost the wmd years ago.

Posted by: EH at October 10, 2005 7:57 PM | Permalink

Jeez, Lovelady, EH, etc.---I give up. You prove my point, and you don't even realize it!

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 8:12 PM | Permalink

How is doing so being a sucker?
Posted by: Bezuhov

That's a question better addressed to the Times and Post, Bezuhov.
They, not I, are the ones who have -- through gritted teeth, and most grudgingly, I might add -- admitted that they deceived their vast readerships because, consumed by war fever, they gullibly swallowed a false rationale.
In truth, that is to their credit -- that is not an easy plate of crow to swallow.
Trust me: There is absolutely no danger that you will ever find any government entity -- and that includes DOD, the CIA, FEMA, and the White House -- doing the same. Reassessment of disastrous decisions is not part of their operational agenda.
Never having to say you're sorry apparently is.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 10, 2005 8:14 PM | Permalink

Well,jeez, I'm such a maroon---here's the REAL link to Shafer's "chilling effect" post:

Posted by: kilgore trout at October 10, 2005 8:24 PM | Permalink

That's right Steve. Right now, no one "knows" you're not a child molester.

But if you had had a history of child molestation, and if you had the corpses of thousands of children buried under your back yard, and if you had twice invaded other peoples' homes to molest their children, and all your neighbors thought you were doing so again, and it was the considered opinion of the police that you were doing so again, and we had the credit card receipts from your purchase of cameras, editing machines, and handcuffs, you think I could get a warrant for your arrest?

In a heartbeat.

In January of 2003, Hans Blix's team discovered a cache of twelve 122mm rockets designed to carry chemical weapons - a violation of the terms of the cease fire on its face.

In the summer of 2004, Polish troops found 16 more 122 mm rockets, chemically capable. Initial tests showed they were positive for sarin, though subsequent tests came up clean. (Tells me they had been decontaminated somewhere along the line)

Polish troops found two more 122mm rockets in June of 2004 that unambiguously DID test positive for sarin - again, a slam dunk violation of the terms of the cease fire. Yes, the samples were highly degraded. But there was nothing in the UN resolutions and the text of the cease fire that said "except for stuff that's highly degraded or past the expiration date."

Funny how this stuff escapes the media memory banks, even though it was Walter Pincus who wrote it.

Apparently, in media moronisphere logic, two rockets testing positive ="chemicals not found."

So how can you cling to the "no WMDs" lie when it's been so flatly falsified?

I don't even have to bring up the sarin mortar shell that exploded and put two US troops in the hospital, or the illegal missiles that Saddam buried underground.

This report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies details the extent of the illegal Iraqi missile program, which was, in and of itself, another violation of the terms of the cease fire and the UN resolutions, and is rather unambiguous.

Of course, all that is lost in the "hysterical "No WMDs! Bush LIED Bush LIED" brouhaha engaged in by those who A.) operate under the idiotic illusion that governments get to make strategic decisions based on certain information, and B.) get so wrapped up in the political rhetoric of the bumper sticker that they do not bother to acquaint themselves with these irrefutable facts:

1.) Saddam was required by the terms of the cease fire, to declare and destroy his entire chemical arsenal. The Polish discovery of the 122mm rockets, and the sarin shell explosions demonstrate unequivocably that Saddam did not do so.

2.) Saddam was required to abandon all plans to develop missiles and rockets with ranges over 150km. Saddam did not do so.


Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at October 10, 2005 8:33 PM | Permalink

What would you have estimated the chances were that Saddam possessed significant quantities of WMD in 2002, had you been forced to guess at that time? 20%? 40%? 60%? Can you honestly say zero?

in September 2002 it would be tough to say "zero" or anything close to "zero". But we didn't invade Iraq until March 2003, after a few months of inspections that began at the very end of 2002.

And this is really the point with regard to the journalistic sins of Judith Miller and the Times, and the rest of the corporate media. "Expert" reporters like Miller had to have know about the deliberate use of exaggerations and distortions of the "facts" concerning Iraq's WMDs, but chose to hide the fact that the Bush regime was deliberately and consciously distorting the truth about the situation.

Of course, much of the problem also lies with the way in which the corporate press has devolved over the last two decades from an arbiter of the relevant facts to a provider of "balance". With the Bush regime pushing, in the wake of 9-11, the idea that invading Iraq was essential to the "war on Terror", few Democrats were willing to challenge the Bush regime on the basic facts lest they be accused of being "soft on terrorism." Those few Democrats who did speak out were treated as "fringe" opinion because "everyone knew that Iraq has WMDs", and it didn't matter if "some" of the "facts" weren't facts at all, there were always lots of other "facts" that rendered the critics irrelevant.

(The corporate media did rebound in 2005, when the Bush regime engaged in an equally dishonest propaganda campaign to privatized Social Security....but the press's willingness to challenge the "facts" presented by Bush may simply have been the result of its pursuit of "balance", i.e. a reflection of far more Democrats being willing to stand up to Bush on the Social Security issue. )

Posted by: ami at October 10, 2005 8:37 PM | Permalink

But there was nothing in the UN resolutions and the text of the cease fire that said "except for stuff that's highly degraded or past the expiration date."

I stopped getting high 20 years ago. I don't have any pot in my house--about 15 years ago, when I realized I was over that phase of my life, I got rid of everything---and I didn't keep any records.

Except that somewhere in my home, in the crease of some LP that I have stored in my basement or between the pages of some book or on the runners of a chest of drawers, there is probably some marijuana somewhere.

I was a "criminal." I'm not anymore. The fact that you can probably find traces of my "criminal" past, despite my best efforts, doesn't mean I get high on a regular basis, or have any intention of doing so ever again. It just means that I'm not perfect at cleaning the house.

Posted by: ami at October 10, 2005 8:48 PM | Permalink

ami. The quote supposedly of mine doesn't sound like me. The sentence structure is more involved than I like, but I'll look for it.

As to lamenting the lack of stories of heroism, it wasn't me that wrote it, it was a NYT writer who seemed to think the lack was important. My point was that the moron didn't know enough to get them, where to get them, how to get them. I don't know what he figured, but as a hard-nosed skeptic, he seems awfully close to wanting a hand out from the DOD.
This had to do with the issue of the general ignorance among the NYT staff of matters military.
I would like to see more stories like that in the NYT. I would also like to get back to my OCS weight. That would be about fifty pounds.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 10, 2005 9:16 PM | Permalink

Jason --
Nice try, but you're a little behind the curve. Even the president himself has conceded there were no WMD's -- but asserts that it doesn't matter. (Although Dick Cheney, also behind the curve, is apparently still stubbornly holding out hope.)
But you do your cause no credit by clinging to a case that even the White House has abandoned in favor of whatever the new rationale of the day for the invasion is.
It's hard to keep up, I admit; said rationale seems to change daily. Last I heard, it seemed to involve the hope that a "constitution" that ratifies 1,000 years of tribal warfare represents a step forward.
But apparently that one is going to be a very hard sell, especially amongst the families of the fallen, and amongst a fair share of military men. (See Lt. Gen. William Odom, who calls the invasion of Iraq was the “greatest strategic disaster in United States history," and calls for repositioning military forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border to capture Osama bin Laden and crush al Qaeda cells.)

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at October 10, 2005 9:17 PM | Permalink

ami. That was neuro-conservative. Try control F.

The point I was making had nothing to do with aid and comfort to the enemy. I do, however, make that point at other times. My question is whether it is a matter of deliberate calculation of negligence. That the effect is as neuro-conservative says it is seems to be indisputable.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 10, 2005 9:20 PM | Permalink

It is so deeply depressing to read the tail of this thread proving once again that there is no reality principle in US politics anymore.

What would it take to actually fix this?

I'm in close agreement with one side of this argument and deeply opposed to the other, but there is simply no communication taking place here between the two. "I trust authority implicitly, so of course I think X and you should stop being so gullible as to think otherwise." "That's funny, I don't trust authority so naturally, like any sentient being, I think not-X and all the facts are on my side." What's the point?

These debates end up being discussions of political theology--what are the odds of online conversion occurring because of theological debate?

Oh, you're right! How could I have been a Catholic all these years when the Protestants actually have things figured out? Silly me!?

What are the odds that's going to happen?

Why do we have at least two or three alternate universes going here? Why do we see religious thought processes where politics is supposed to be?

Can anyone conceive a scenario that might plausibly challenge this? Otherwise, this is like listening to a stuck record that keeps skipping in the SAME place EVERY time.

In a way, to say this is to give up on the possibility of political dialogue, but I think this thread proves that that possibility has been pretty well exhausted for the time being.

Not trying to debate those who aren't listening is to stop banging your head against the same wall yet one more time. It pretty closely approaches a form of obsessive compusive personality disorder. Must...bang...head...

Posted by: Mark Anderson at October 10, 2005 9:53 PM | Permalink

Steve, as a journalist, knows lots of stuff. His problem is believing the rest of us don't.

WMD were one of a list of reasons to go after SH which was so long that lefties sneered the administration couldn't find one it liked, or ought to make up its mind.

So, if the other reasons still apply, the missing WMD are not the death knell of the reasoning.
So, in one sense, it doesn't matter. The other reasons still apply.

I believe the general is missing something. As the lefties, and others, have noted, al Q has morphed into a cross between a philosophy and a franchiser. Crushing the al Q cells in the mountains and even finding OBL will not change the facts of terror as it now exists. Love to see it, but getting them later than we otherwise might is not particularly important. What is important is keeping them on the run, concerned about survival. B. H. Liddell Hart referred to the "Strategic Barrage" which was not artillery, but a threat to the enemy's rear. It had the effect of making all but the most stubborn commanders quit thinking about their next move forward and start thinking about covering their ass, their supplies and their line of retreat. Looks as if we're keeping--I devoutly hope I'm correct--al Q cells and OBL on the down side of the strategic barrage.
The Islamofascists are not bright, but they're not as stupid as they look. They take forms they can sustain. When protected by a nation-state, they look like a paramilitary force. When their sponsor is turfed out and their fighting formations crushed, they take a different form. I presume they would prefer the status quo ante, since that was what they did when they had the choice. Their current tactics, if it's even that organized, is the fallback position. Since they could have done it earlier, while the Taliban were in power. But they didn't, or if they did, supplemented it with the paramilitary organizing. In either case, they no longer have their preferred structure, going with what they can manage now.
And, according to the now-dated "Shadow War", we are fighting them one way or another in about eighty countries. Not that Steve and his buddies would actually tell anybody about it, even if it were knowable, which some of it is.
They prefer to pretend the focus is solely on Iraq.
As informed people know it is not.

For the fun of it, search for "caspian guard". Just one or two examples of the effort.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at October 10, 2005 9:55 PM | Permalink

That would be "obsessive compulsive."

Posted by: Mark Anderson at October 10, 2005 9:57 PM | Permalink

Andrew Tyndall: "... Miller's relationship with this network of contacts ..."

Miller has been writing about Iraq's WMD programs for many years, years before the present administration. I suspect her network of contacts crosses political administrations. I would suspect the same is true for Pincus, Cooper, Russert and many others.

Miller was certainly in "good" company in her reporting.

However, I don't think it's wise to conflate the failure of the media and (international) intelligence agencies concerning Iraq's WMD capabilities since the end of Desert Storm with the Plame case.

Posted by: Sisyphus at October 10, 2005 10:00 PM | Permalink

The fact is this: the closer to invasion we got, the more obscure the possibility of WMD especially nuclear, appeared. Only a fool would continue on in the face of this lack of evidence and run off the inspectors. Yet our fool did exactly that.

That's a failing grade for all concerned. You see the failure of the press, like Rather I don't use "Media," was to actually believe the nonsense they heard from the administration.

Posted by: EH at October 10, 2005 10:16 PM | Permalink

From the Intro