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Friday, October 21, 2005

Jesus Christ On A Cracker 

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If I were President, Judy Miller Would Be Hung In The National Mall

Oct. 19, 2005 - The lengthy account by New York Times reporter Judy Miller about her grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case inadvertently provides a revealing window into how the Bush administration manipulated journalists about intelligence on Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

Whatever the implications for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe, Miller describes a conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, on July 8, 2003, where he appears to significantly misrepresent the contents of still-classified material from a crucial prewar intelligence-community document about Iraq.

With no weapons of mass destruction having been found in Iraq and new questions being raised about the case for war, Libby assured Miller that day that the still-classified document, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), contained even stronger evidence that would support the White House’s conclusions about Iraq’s weapons programs, according to Miller’s account.

In fact, a declassified version of the NIE was publicly released just 10 days later, and it showed almost precisely the opposite. The NIE, it turned out, contained caveats and qualifiers that had never been publicly acknowledged by the administration prior to the invasion of Iraq. It also included key dissents by State Department intelligence analysts, Energy Department scientists and Air Force technical experts about some important aspects of the administration’s case.

The assertion that still-secret material would bolster the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD was “certainly not accurate, it was not true,” says Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who coauthored a study last year, titled “A Tale of Two Intelligence Estimates,” about different versions of the NIE that were released. If Miller’s account is correct, Libby was “misrepresenting the intelligence” that was contained in the document, she said.


"This country is in one heck of a mess."


If there is a single sentiment members of Congress heard while back in their districts this month, that was it.

In the past few days I've been speaking with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill (mostly Republicans) about the mood back home. I've learned that it's one thing to read in the paper that two-thirds of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. It's an altogether more bracing experience to go to town meetings and church and the supermarket and find this sentiment blasting you in the face.

The most interesting tales came from Republicans elected from districts President Bush carried by fewer than 10 points. Those districts were once moderately supportive of the president, but now, as one member of Congress said, the anger at Bush is so deep it's almost indescribable.

It's a generalized feeling of betrayal. At town meetings, big subjects like Iraq and the deficits barely come up. But there is a sense that this guy Bush promised to make us feel safe, and it's clear from the Katrina fiasco and everything else that we are not safe.

For Republicans from vulnerable districts in the Northeast and Midwest, the president has become, as another member put it, radioactive. These Republicans return from districts where they are being called upon to give back the money Tom DeLay raised for them, and go back to a Washington where G.O.P. indictments, and hence trials, promise to stretch on for years.


Bill Keller Begins His Long Slow Apology. My advice is while you explore the ramifications of intricate journalistic questions, ask yourself what it must feel like to play the guitar your whole life like Ernest Ashley, and then suddenly have an arm blown off.


I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the leak investigation, I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of my own. It is a natural and proper instinct to defend reporters when the government seeks to interfere in our work. And under other circumstances it might have been fine to entrust the details -- the substance of the confidential interviews, the notes -- to lawyers who would be handling the case. But in this case I missed what should have been significant alarm bells. Until Fitzgerald came after her, I didn't know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign. I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel, a year after the fact. (In November of 2003 Phil Taubman tried to ascertain whether any of our correspondents had been offered similar leaks. As we reported last Sunday, Judy seems to have misled Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement.) This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper.

In the end, I'm pretty sure I would have concluded that we had to fight this case in court. For one thing, we were facing an insidious new menace in these blanket waivers, ostensibly voluntary, that Administration officials had been compelled to sign.! But if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises.

Dick Stevenson has expressed the larger lesson here in an e-mail that strikes me as just right: "I think there is, or should be, a contract between the paper and its reporters. The contract holds that the paper will go to the mat to back them up institutionally -- but only to the degree that the reporter has lived up to his or her end of the bargain, specifically to have conducted him or herself in a way consistent with our legal, ethical and journalistic standards, to have been open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like, and generally to deserve having the reputations of all of us put behind him or her. In that way, everybody knows going into a battle exactly what the situation is, what we're fighting for, the degree to which the facts might counsel compromise or not, and the degree to which our collective credibility should be put on the line."



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