Judy Miller's Propaganda Mistaken For Journalism

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) gave Judy Miller their First Amendment Award in Las Vegas today. The award was given in conjunction with her appearance on a panel addressing The Reporter’s Privilege Under Siege. Miller’s selection would seem to be an unusual choice of a journalist whose recent work has been widely discredited and who even described it herself as “totally wrong.”

The award, of course, is not meant to honor her writing, but her incarceration for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Plamegate. That doesn’t make it any less unusual when you consider the facts surrounding her ordeal.

Miller claims that her refusal to testify was to uphold the principle of freedom of the press as she was trying to protect an anonymous source. However, one version of her story has I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby as her source, but he claims he had waived any promise of anonymity over a year ago. Another version of her story has her claiming that she didn’t remember who gave her the name of CIA operative, Valerie Plame. That would mean she was refusing to testify in order to protect someone she couldn’t reveal anyway because she forgot who it was.

It’s too bad the SPJ’s standards have declined to include honoring hacks who engage in propaganda. At last year’s SPJ convention, Bill Moyers gave an address entitled Journalism Under Fire, in which he made some interesting and relevant points:

“…the greater offense was the seduction of mainstream media into helping the government dupe the public to support a war to disarm a dictator who was already disarmed.”

Moyers doesn’t mention Miller by name, but could he have possibly given a better description of her work? Then there was this:

“The framers of our nation never envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting the public’s need for news second to their own interests – and to the ideology of free-market economics.”

Nor could they have foreseen the rise of a quasi-official partisan press serving as a mighty megaphone for the regime in power. Stretching from Washington think tanks funded by corporations to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch’s far-flung empire of tabloid journalism to the nattering no-nothings of talk radio…

Moyers address represented the best of that to which the SPJ should aspire. Their own published Code of Ethics illustrates a couple of points that they might have considered before nominating Miller for this honor. Items #3 and #4 (out of 37) state:

  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

The Associated Press account of the award ceremony says that “…Miller received a standing ovation from more than half the crowd of about 350 journalists…” That means that about half the crowd remained seated as well. I’m not sure that qualifies as an ovation. It’s also telling that, in her remarks, she had to explicity defend accusations that she was protecting wrongdoers and laying the foundation for a big payday.

Miller said, “I did not go to jail to protect wrongdoing. I did not go to jail to get a large book contract or to martyr myself,” she said. “Anyone who thinks I would spend 85 days in jail as a canny career move knows nothing about jail and nothing about me.”

Ask yourselves…Would you spend 85 days in jail to keep from being indicted for a probable felony, or even treason? Would you do it for a million dollar book deal?