Saturday, June 25, 2005
Judith Miller And The Texas Oil-for-Food Scandal
I want to revisit the Russ Baker story on how Judith Miller's trying to do to the UN what she did to Iraq. Here's why it's such a big deal:
Most of Miller's sleuthing centers on contracts handed out in connection with the so-called Oil for Food program (which got indispensable staples to the Iraqi people during the embargo). Miller's articles typically take murky evidence and create in readers' minds the sense that there's something deeply wrong in the UN's command structure, when in fact, there may not be. At worst, the malfeasance there pales by comparison to what goes on in Washington day after day. Since March, Miller has been largely invisible, but last week she returned to the UN dirt beat with a vengeance. On June 15, she came up with goods that at first looked damning. Her article, "Investigators To Review Hint of Annan Role in Iraq Oil Sales," dealt with a memo that seemed to indicate that Secretary General Kofi Annan may have had more contact with a UN contractor for whom his son worked than he had previously admitted. Miller makes it clear that the company in question, Cotecna, has been belatedly forthcoming with information about how it got the UN contracts. But in the penultimate paragraph, she drops this little bomb: "A new internal audit showed that Cotecna had not made the $306,305 in payments that [a UN investigative] panel said might have gone to Kojo Annan [Kofi Annan's son]." Is she being deliberately opaque or is this just bad writing? What she is actually saying in this throwaway paragraph is that the allegation behind her many previous stories, about a corrupt link between Kojo Annan and the company that got a UN contract, may be unfounded. If the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, why is that possibility raised only near the end of the article? Two days after that article appeared, the Times ran another in which Miller shared a byline with the Times' estimable UN bureau chief, Warren Hoge. Their jointly bylined article is headlined "Contractor Now Denies He Talked With Annan on Oil-for-Food Bid." What does that mean? It means that the very source in Miller's earlier piece is now changing his story. It also means that Times editors are sufficiently concerned to include this as an entirely separate article in a paper always short of space for important stories. This article notes that this is the second time that the source, a one-time business partner of Kojo Annan, has revised his story about what his partner's father might have known about UN contract favoritism. If this source is known to be unreliable, why write an article every time he's quoted saying something harmful to Kofi Annan (and, perhaps not coincidentally, useful to Miller's friends in the neocon community, who are ever eager to discredit the United Nations).The thing is that Miller's pieces are focused, using bogus information, like a laser beam on certain key UN personnel -- even though there is no proof that her targets did anything wrong, much less on the scale of the theft being committed by the true villains down in Houston, Texas.
But Miller's led to war and death, while Baker has never succeeded in doing worse than annoy.
More blogs about politics.