Judith Miller Hasn’t Learned a Thing

Judith MillerIn general, Judith Miller’s book tour has been really upsetting. It isn’t that I blame her for the Iraq War. But she was at a bare minimum a useful fool of the Bush administration that was determined to go to war with Iraq. Yet here she is with her new book, The Story. And every time I see her, she is making the same reasonable sounding, but wrong, claims that it wasn’t her — it was the flawed intelligence. If pushed, she will admit that, sure, it wasn’t the intelligence as such, but rather the intelligence filtered through the White House that was wrong. But then she will follow it up with something to the effect that all the reporters got it wrong — except Knight Ridder. But even that heads back at her, because eventually even they assumed they were wrong because, well, look at what The New York Times was reporting!

So normally, I wouldn’t have watched Jon Stewart’s interview with her on The Daily Show. But I heard that he really went after her. And he did indeed. But the truth is that Judith Miller is very good at deflecting criticism. And she is just going to sit there, smile, and repeat her mantra, “I was just reporting what I thought was true; all the other reporters were doing it.” It’s just shameful. And Stewart’s conclusion was appropriate:

We’re obviously never going to see eye-to-eye on it. I appreciate you coming on the program. These discussions always make me incredibly sad because I feel like they point to institutional failure at the highest levels and no one will take responsibility for it, and they pass the buck to every individual but themselves. It’s sad.

But the main thing was the total disgust that was on his face. Miller, of course, smiled through it all. She is, after all, not just selling a book; she’s selling herself. But the best that Stewart could manage was a very tight, clearly angry, forced smirk. I was glad to see it. He clearly feels the way I do.

I want to be clear about what this feeling is. I have no wish to see Judith Miller harassed and belittled for the rest of her life. People make mistakes. For some, it is small and maybe all it does it ruin their lives. But some make mistakes on a grand scale. Miller is such a person. Now I fully appreciate that if Cheney and company didn’t have access to her, they would have found someone else. But they did have her, and it isn’t asking so much for her to admit that she did a bad job.

Ultimately, the problem is with the media system itself. Judith Miller has presented herself — and continues to — as a neutral observer. She’s just reporting the facts as she finds them. But as The Daily Show interview shows, this isn’t the case. She actually did have an ax to grind. I don’t doubt that she was unaware of it. But she appears to be so focused on exonerating herself that she is still unaware of her biases. If she were honest and admitted that, yes in fact, she wanted to believe the nonsense that the White House was dishing, then it would all be over. I would accept that she — very much like myself — is imperfect. But the Judith Miller going all over the nation pimping her book? She hasn’t learned a thing.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

8 thoughts on “Judith Miller Hasn’t Learned a Thing

  1. She could have written an “Atheist in the FoxHole”-type book, about the experience of being swept up in the collective mindset. But she’s not that sort. Wiki says she’s worked for Fox, and some conservative think-tank. Apparently she wants to be a Tom Friedman before she retires. Good luck, I guess.

    • I’m pretty sure she’s still with Fox News. When she joined, most people thought it made sense. She’s in a bad position, because even if you accept her argument, the conclusion is that she’s a mediocre reporter. “Okay, so you aren’t responsible for the Iraq War. But you have no credibility either.” My feeling is just: please go away.

  2. Just got around to watching the video now. (I had stuff to do today — but I did try and link here in the middle of it! It’s not my fault if people don’t click on links!)

    Damn, I’m going to miss Stewart. His famous takedown of “Crossfire” was nowhere near as good as this interview. He’s less defensively silly now. He’s polite, not “gotcha,” but he knows Miller is lying, and he confronts her again and again with everything she willfully ignored.

    (She IS good at deflecting criticism. Maybe she’s not aiming to be the next Friedman, but Press Secretary for Scott Walker or whomever. She’d be wizardly at it. Come to think of it, why publish a book nobody cares about reading unless you’re trying for such a spot? Or running for office.)

    Would it be too much for me to ask that Stewart isn’t leaving TDS just to retire? That, seeing how John Oliver & staff have run with TDS’s “graphic on the left side” format and done so brilliantly with it, Stewart wants to focus on what he does best — clearly, interviewing — and give us a version of “Meet The Press” that doesn’t stink?

    I could see that being amazing. Not every political figure would be so skilled as Miller at lying. Stewart could catch some really screwing up.

    Not as though Stewart owes us anything. He’s already up a thousand points over even on the karmic “do no harm” bookie meter just for how he & staff covered Gulf War II. They were the only thing on American TV detailing how every step towards and justification for that war was absolute bullshit. My late mom, who was already leaning towards liberalism, got pushed completely over the edge by that BS, and we’d talk almost every night on the phone about the latest “Daily Show.” Their “Mess-O’-Potamia” run was one of TV’s finest accomplishments.

    So retire, Stewart, if you want. You did enough. (But please don’t retire, and do more! Fuck your family! Noam Chomsky has a family, they’re doing fine! SERVE US!)

    • Oh, and Miller droning on about “the intelligence community.” She means the people who weren’t fired/encouraged to retire because they called BS, right? I’ve said it before and will again — if we’re going to politicize our spy stuff to such a degree that anyone who provides inconvenient intel gets canned, why spend any money on it.

      Cut the budget down to $50,000 annually and hire one of those guys I used to hear on radio ads when I lived in New York, taking advantage of stressed-out immigrants. “Papa Guano will see the future for you and ensure all your ventures become most fruitful. You will have to provide your own chicken.”

      • The thing about intelligence is that it is like information in a general sense as I discussed earlier related to asymmetry and libertarianism. The issue is always finding the signal in the noise. In her case, she wasn’t even getting all the information. She was just getting selected information from people who clearly had an ax to grind. And now she’s saying she couldn’t know any better. If she was really that naive, she never should have had that job. But I don’t think she was. As I’ve said, I think she just had the same ax to grind as Cheney as company.

    • I’m sure Stewart won’t disappear. At least at first, I just expect to see him getting coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. He might want to make more movies. If he did interviews and was good at it, very quickly people would stop going on the show. But I wouldn’t be surprised if in 5 years he comes back with a weekly show.

      • I’ve read since watching this that Stewart plans to run an animal shelter.

        I’m not sure that a good interview show would scare off candidates; they’d have the stigma of “too scared to appear on . . .” This stuff can matter. Oliver did a bit on stupid municipal felony warrants, Baltimore busted into flames, and lo/behold, I get a postcard about stupid municipal felony warrants in my mailbox.

        If the thing is Tweeted and Facebooked enough, people will pay attention to it. But, like I said, Stewart doesn’t owe us anything. If he wants to run an animal shelter, good for him.

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