Judith Miller Opens Old Iraq War Wounds, and Sheds Some New Light
By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, has sparked a fierce reaction from a mainstream media intent on continuing to blame George W. Bush’s “lies” for the Iraq War with her new book, The Story: A Reporter’s Journey. The book has produced a general disgust from a media intent on ignoring important revelations she’s made in this book. Instead the mainstream media have chosen to focus on her alleged agenda-driven reporting leading up to the invasion of Iraq, while for the most part ignoring additional details about how weak the prosecution was against Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
Miller now says that not only was she wrong when she testified that Libby had outed CIA operations officer Valerie Plame to her, but that the federal prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, was on a vendetta designed to implicate former Vice President Dick Cheney himself in the conspiracy to expose Plame, with Libby as a convenient victim sacrificed in pursuit of Fitzgerald’s agenda.
Ms. Miller’s testimony was vital to the trial. She was “the only reporter who asserted that Mr. Libby volunteered information about Mr. Wilson’s wife,” writes Peter Berkowitz of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, in a long piece for The Wall Street Journal, entitled “The False Evidence Against Scooter Libby.” Now she says her memory is unclear, and that Libby probably hadn’t “talked about Plame with me that day.”
Her testimony at the trial interpreted notes from a conversation years past. Not knowing that Plame had worked for the State Department, Miller interpreted those notes to support the premise that Libby had told her about Plame’s position at the CIA.
“If Libby, a seasoned bureaucrat, had been trying to plant her employer with me at our first meeting in June, he would not have used the word Bureau to describe where Plame worked,” writes Miller in The Story. That’s because, she writes, “The CIA is organized by offices within divisions” whereas the “State Department is divided into functional offices and regional and other ‘bureaus’…”
“Reading Plame’s book had put my reference to that word—in parentheses and with a question mark—in a new light,” she writes. “Libby probably hadn’t used it, or talked about Plame with me that day.”
“Had Fitzgerald’s questions about whether my use of the word Bureau meant the FBI steered me in the wrong direction?” she wonders in her book. “Had I helped convict an innocent man?”
Such an error would prove troubling for any reporter, and probably for anyone who might have accidentally testified falsely. It was courageous of Miller to acknowledge that she had been misled given her already controversial reputation.
Her after-the-fact explanation actually fits with contemporaneous accounts “She was confused about that at first, she said,” the Associated Press reported back in 2007. “‘Through the context of the discussion, I quickly determined it to be the CIA,’ she testified.”
Fitzgerald had a transparent agenda, according to her 2014 interview with Joe Tate, Libby’s lawyer until the criminal trial, writes Miller. Tate told her that Fitzgerald told him, “Unless you can deliver someone higher up—the vice president—I’m going forth with the indictment,” a bargain Fitzgerald offered him twice, according to Miller’s book.
Accuracy in Media (AIM) has reported extensively on the flaws in the way Libby’s prosecution was conducted. Yet years later ABC News was still including this “scandal” in its top ten political scandals of the 21st century, and reporting the facts from Plame’s and her husband, Joe Wilson’s biased perspectives. “It’s unfortunate that this story has to be re-litigated time and again,” I wrote in 2013.
The story of Libby’s trial will not be re-litigated again here, but my numerous accounts of the myths surrounding this story outline essential details on how this trial has become one of the most misreported stories in recent history.
Miller’s account validates AIM’s consistent reporting on the subject: “I wrote or co-wrote with Cliff Kincaid a series of articles during and after the Libby trial that showed he was wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, and that Bush did a disservice to Libby and his own legacy by not having the courage of his conviction to pardon Libby rather than just commute his sentence.”
“Indeed, the prosecution presented no hard evidence that Libby had lied,” I wrote. “Instead, the prosecution asked the jury to infer that Libby had (with no motive) lied, based simply on the jury’s experience of the accuracy of memory.”
And now Miller says her memory was likely not accurate at all.
Miller apparently discovered her error upon reading Plame’s book, Fair Game; Libby himself had suggested to her she might find “something of interest” in it.
According to her account in The Story, Miller has been treated very harshly by the Times, and considers herself a scapegoat for the Times’ and news media’s overall discontent with the war coverage. “Other news outlets had followed my lead,” she writes. “That made me Azazel, the biblical goat upon which the community heaped its many sins.”
“‘Judy’s stories about WMD,’ wrote the Times’ Maureen Dowd, ‘fit too closely with the White House’s case for war,’” I noted back in 2005. “That was the bottom line of the anger and venom, some of it very personal, aimed at Miller by the likes of Dowd and Frank Rich.” I also pointed out how Miller was far from being the only reporter, or editorial writer, at the Times to have written about Saddam’s possession and pursuit of WMD, some of which turned out to be wrong, but by no means all of it.
Recall that it was then-President Bill Clinton, who in 1998 signed the Iraq Liberation Act, making regime change official U.S. policy, and he ordered the sustained bombing of Baghdad in December of that year. As the bombs began to fall, Clinton told the nation, “Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.”
The animosity between Miller and the Times remains palpable. “To Ms. Miller’s credit, this is not a score-settling book, although Bill Keller, the executive editor who she says forced her out of The Times, gets walked around the block naked a couple of times and competing reporters receive just-for-old-times’-sake elbows to their rib cages,” writes Terry McDermott for the Times.
“Cast out of the journalistic temple, she says she felt ‘stateless,’ and from the evidence here she remains a bit lost,” he writes in the book review—ending it with a pointed, unnecessary jab. “This sad and flawed book won’t help her be found.”
Similarly, Erik Wemple of The Washington Post calls the book “depressing,” “desperate,” and written with a “tedious grand design.” And while Wemple cites Libby early in his review for his criminal conviction, he never touches on the points made by Miller that pointed to his persecution by Fitzgerald and exoneration as it related to Miller.
“A two-year study by Charles Duelfer, the former deputy chief of the U.N. inspectors who led America’s hunt for WMD in Iraq, concluded that Saddam Hussein was playing a double game, trying…to get sanctions lifted and inspectors out of Iraq and…to persuade Iran and other foes that he had retained WMD,” wrote Miller for The Wall Street Journal in an op-ed published on April 3. “Often forgotten is Mr. Duelfer’s well-documented warning that Saddam intended to restore his WMD programs once sanctions were lifted.”
Miller’s account is the more accurate, if less politically correct, one, despite the media’s ongoing animosity toward any evidence or argument that may absolve Bush from the accusation that he lied—and misled us into the Iraq War.
“Neighboring Kuwait and Iran also thought Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction,” notes Berkowitz for Real Clear Politics. “So did some of Saddam’s field commanders.” So did the British government, the French, and many of the other countries in the coalition that went to war with us in Iraq. Last year, The New York Times, of all places, revealed in a major series of articles titled “The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons,” that “American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs” during the Iraq War, but the Bush administration chose to keep it quiet. Clearly, the stockpiles of WMD that they expected to find once Iraq was liberated from Saddam Hussein were not found. The debate over that issue, and the significance of the Times’ findings, continues. But it is wrong to argue that no WMD were found in Iraq.
Berkowitz, in his Wall Street Journal analysis, took a deeper look at the actions of Fitzgerald’s prosecution of Libby, and it wasn’t pretty: “Mr. Fitzgerald’s conduct warrants revisiting not only to set the record straight about Mr. Libby, but also to illustrate the damage that can be done to national security by a special counsel who, discovering no crime, generates through his investigations the alleged offenses he seeks to prosecute.”
And this, which detailed how Fitzgerald withheld exculpatory evidence from Libby’s lawyers that could have absolutely made a difference in the final outcome of the trial: “Mr. Fitzgerald, who had the classified file of Ms. Plame’s service, withheld her State Department cover from Ms. Miller—and from Mr. Libby’s lawyers, who had requested Ms. Plame’s employment history,” wrote Berkowitz. “Despite his constitutional and ethical obligation to provide exculpatory evidence, Mr. Fitzgerald encouraged Ms. Miller to misinterpret her ambiguous notes as showing that Mr. Libby brought up Ms. Plame.”
Berkowitz also made the most salient point regarding this whole prosecution. The idea, when the investigation began in late summer of 2003, was to find out who leaked Valerie Plame’s name and identity to reporters, specifically to Robert Novak, who first reported it in a July 2003 column. By October, the FBI knew where the leak came from. It was Richard Armitage, from the State Department, who unlike some at the White House was opposed to going to war against Saddam. But that was kept quiet, and when Fitzgerald was appointed special prosecutor in December of that year, the case should have been closed. But Fitzgerald chose to seek a conviction against Libby by arguing that he was lying, rather than that his memory was confused when he spoke months later following his July 2003 conversation with Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Libby’s team wanted to have memory experts testify, but Fitzgerald refused to allow it, allowing him to stack the deck by manipulating witnesses.
Miller now makes clear that Libby did not tell her about Valerie Plame.
I sat through parts of the trial, including the day that Evan Thomas of Newsweek, David Sanger of The New York Times, Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, and Robert Novak testified—all of whom spoke with Libby during the period in which he was supposedly outing Plame—and each one said that didn’t happen in their conversation.
The idea that neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post, nor others in the media, regularly and deliberately push an agenda when the facts are limited, only available from the administration’s perspective, or conveniently fit preconceived narratives about reality is laughable. Accuracy in Media exists to document many such cases, including: the coverage of the Ferguson, Missouri shooting; the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus;” Obamacare, and illegal immigration. Meanwhile, stories about Benghazi, Fast & Furious, and the IRS scandal, among others, are largely ignored by the mainstream media because they don’t fit the established progressive agenda and might damage the current administration.
In the end, this is one of those books that each party takes from it that which conveniently suits their own narrative. And by doing so, many in the media are ignoring the important revelations to be found in Miller’s new book, The Story: A Reporter’s Journey.