Saturday, October 15, 2005
How Stupid Are We Supposed To Be?
The notebook used by New York Times reporter Judith Miller for an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff contained a name virtually identical to covert operative Valerie Plame's, the Times reported on Saturday. But Miller, whose notebook for the July 2003 interview with Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby contained the name "Valerie Flame," told federal prosecutors she did not think Libby was the source of that information and that she could not recall who was.Apparently, Miller's decided we (or at least, the grand jury members) are supposed to be stupid enough to believe that her notes didn't include the source of the information she was writing down. Excuse me, but how stupid would a reporter have to be not to write down the name of the person she's talking to as soon as she begins a conversation that could result in a news story? I mean. My journalistic experience consists of two college courses and three freelance articles for local weeklies, and I know that's one of the minimum requirements. On the other hand, it could explain a lot about the current state of affairs at the New York Times, if the editors really are accepting stories with no better sourcing than, "Here's something I wrote up from some notes that I had in my notebook, I don't remember where they came from so I don't know whether they're a scoop or whether I was just doodling one day, but why don't we run it anyway?" Oh, and by the way, it makes me wild to hear some rightwinger using the "don't remember" defense about things that happened within the last couple of years and have been on the front burner for all this time, considering how snotty The Usual Suspects were about Hillary Clinton testifying that she didn't remember things she did for the Rose Law Firm 20 years earlier. Apparently only Democrats are expected to have perfect recall. Added 10/16: Truthout editor Marc Ash notes, "Our editorial staff does not understand how an experienced reporter could fail to remember her source." He also comments on Miller's account of her testimony:
The Valerie Plame affair began with first hand accounts by Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, which contradicted key Bush administration arguments for invading Iraq. Judith Miller was an ardent subscriber to the Bush administration's rationale for the invasion. Most, if not all, of Miller's assertions about the need to invade Iraq have proven false. Accordingly, Truthout cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of Miller's statements.
If a journalist has a source, she has notes.
I've only seen a small sample of stories about Judy Miller's newly discovered notes, but they're unanimous in expressing incredulity that she didn't record the source for the notes that included the name "Valerie Flame".
I'm suddenly wondering just how old those notes are. Unlike emails and electronic files, there's no way to determine the real date when handwritten notes were made.
You can't say you have a source if you don't make some record of what they said. Go to your editor with "Mr. X said.." and the first response is, "Fine, let me see the notes."
One can forge dates on e-mails. If these are legitimate handwritten notes, they include the date. They also probably come from a notebook, with notes before and after. If so, they can be placed with reasonable certainty.
That's a big IF. I would not be a bit surprised if Judith Miller "found" that notebook on a shelf in OfficeMax about a week before she "found" it in her filing cabinet.
The other suspicious item is the uncorrected misspelling of "Valerie Flame". Even a neophyte journalist knows that the #1 rule is to get the names right. Even obvious names like Mary Smith have alternate spellings, so every name needs to be checked. But Miller didn't bother checking whether she heard and spelled the name correctly? Pull the other one, it's got bells on.
Yes, it's always possible the whole notebook is a forgery. It's possible to forge almost anything.
It's also possible that Judith Miller is a complete idiot who received promotions on a purely pudendal basis.
At this point, either hypothesis could be true. The second is perhaps better supported.
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