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Media Reality Check: Judith Miller Goes Free

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To: The Mainstream News Media
From: A former reporter/ current news junkie
Re: What a week!

Don’t you just hate it when facts get in the way of good stories?

First came the bad news that journalists had done a sloppier job than originally realized covering Katrina. This just increases my call to them to put away the champagne and do some real work. And if that means reviewing how to deal with rumors during disasters, so be it. Better that than falsely reporting incidents of rapes.

Then in recent days I posted at Blogcritics my pieces about Karl Rove, Robert Novak and related satire pieces about Judith Miller and Tom Cruise.

Predictably, conservatives called my pieces stale and wrong while liberals praised me for keeping up the good fight. My motives were less partisan than just interest in a good story and a fascinating ethics situation. I mean can we possibly have a less likable journalist to play the role of martyr than Miller?

As I wrote in the comments section of this thread:

While she is not a poster child for good journalism (she got used by the Bush administration to justify the war) she is still in jail for not revealing her sources and that is indeed a first amendment issue.

It’s true she is not protecting a whistleblower – more like she is protecting a source from the administration such as Rove. But that doesn’t stop making it a first amendment issue.

I’ve been as critical of her – heck, I’ve satirized her – as I have of Robert Novak.

Well, now comes the news that Miller has been released. Expect much speculation and hand-wringing to commence. Does this mean she caved?

Editor and publisher is reporting that her source gave her a waiver and that she is going to testify today. Hopefully in the days to come her actions will become clear and maybe even
Novak will shed light on his role for as Jay Rosen points out, Novak has some explaining to do.

Speaking of unlikeable jerks, Geraldo Rivera got a correction but not an apology from The New York Times. Rivera complained that an article in the newspaper suggested he “nudged” a emergency worker trying to help a Katrina victim. It looks like the newspaper was wrong and he was right because a correction ran this week. It ran after an interesting piece by Public Editor Bryan Calame which argued for the correction. Thanks to Slate’s Today’s Papers - one of the best guides to daily journalism around – for bringing this to my attention.

Calame wrote the best sentence I’ve read in recent months to describe journalism integrity, whether we’re talking about Novak, Rivera or whoever. He wrote, “One of the real tests of journalistic integrity is being fair to someone who might be best described by a four-letter word.”

And with that thought I leave you for now.

Your faithful reader,
Scott Butki

Ed:LisaM

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Bravo, Scott! Great piece.

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    Branzburg v. Hayes. 1A doesn’t protect sources.

    Too bad to see she caved, though. Three months down the toilet.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Thanks, Silas.

    Matthew, yup. Of course I’m not sure how long you or I would last if we had to stay in prison to protect something we believed in.

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    Two things irk me about Miller’s situation, and one thing amuses the hell out of me:

    Irk No. 1 — While I know the Supreme Court ruling says the press doesn’t have a 1A right to protect sources, it’s bothersome that Miller didn’t print anything about Valerie Wilson. I guess the rationale is that if Miller prints nothing but knows something she shouldn’t, she’s not a journalist in this instance but rather a standard citizen with privileged information.

    Irk No. 2 — This story became more about a partisan attack/defense with Karl Rove than it did about confidential sources. Exception: the NYT, who pretty much blew the lid off seditious libel, cares about this moreso because it’s their writer. If they were really gungho about protectcing sources, they should have also been adamant on the release of Jim Taricani (Maybe they were, but I didn’t hear anything about it.)

    Amusing — We first found out Miller was going to testify from an anonymous source.

  • James P. Mramor

    Although the act of identifying an undercover CIA agent is a crime that should be pursued and prosecuted, the media seems to have missed the motive behind the crime. I was not to punish Wilson! It was done to send a message to the intelligence community to chill any more revelations that may be damaging to this administration,s agenda. It will cost you if you tell!

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Wait a minute. If her source gave her a waiver — and did it “voluntarily and personally” as Miller says he did — then how is she “caving”?

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    At the time I wrote that last nite news of the waiver was not out.

    That’s one reason I put the “caving” comment as a question.

    Even with the waiver, though, some journalists are disappointed. This is a waiver she could have used months ago but she held out.

    To what purpose?
    To show defiance against a prosecutor? If so, then yes she caved.

    Good piece on the delay and other weird outstanding issues
    here.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    My understanding was that she hesitated because she didn’t believe the waiver was voluntary. Do I have that wrong?

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    She was told in late August that it was voluntary. So it’s unclear why she waited a month.

    Although I just read Miller’s statement and she provides a possible answer: She wanted a promise that she would only have to give limited testimony.

    Her statement is
    here.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Thanks for all the great responses.

    Incidentally today is my birthday.
    I wrote a special bday message – summarizing what I learned during the last year – at my
    blog.

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