Since this seems to be Judy Miller Day at Booman, I’ll post this diary, adapted from my “log entry” on my blog, Dreaming Up Daily (http://dreamingup.blogspot.com)
The Times was given a challenge it can’t refuse by its rival New York paper, the Daily News yesterday. But to understand the import of that Wednesday challenge, it’s necessary to remember what the Times printed on Sunday.
There were three important pieces on the Plame affair in Sunday’s New York Times, though only two got a lot of attention: the staff story about Times reporter Judy Miller and her jailing, and Miller’s own piece about her testimony.
But the third piece was Frank Rich’s column, when he took a step back and zeroed in on the underlying crime, the campaign to sell the Iraq war to the American people, Congress and the world.
It was a little-known group of insiders, Rich wrote, who engineered this campaign: known as the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Their cooked intelligence, spin and disinformation efforts were the real crime, Rich suggests.
It was not until the war was supposedly over – with “Mission Accomplished,” in May 2003 – that Mr. Wilson started to add his voice to those who were disputing the administration’s uranium hype. Members of WHIG had a compelling motive to shut him down.
In contrast to other skeptics, like Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner), Mr. Wilson was an American diplomat; he had reported his findings in Niger to our own government. He was a dagger aimed at the heart of WHIG and its disinformation campaign. Exactly who tried to silence him and how is what Mr. Fitzgerald presumably will tell us.
All the President’s men lied in public about what they knew about the Plame affair, Rich says, because they thought Ashcroft’s Justice Department would always be in charge of the non-investigation. But political pressure forced the appointment of an independent prosecutor, and their skillful manipulation in 2003 and 2004 became waiting for the consequences in 2005.
Rich concludes: “Whether or not Mr. Fitzgerald uncovers an indictable crime, there is once again a victim, but that victim is not Mr. or Mrs. Wilson; it’s the nation. It is surely a joke of history that even as the White House sells this weekend’s constitutional referendum as yet another “victory” for democracy in Iraq, we still don’t know the whole story of how our own democracy was hijacked on the way to war.”
That was Sunday. Wednesday the other shoe dropped, courtesy of the unlikely local rival, the New York Daily News. They ran a short article on WHIG–but it has a bomb attached. The last paragraphs are:
“They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member,” the source said.
“Judy was a charter member”–Among other things, this is a direct challenge to the Times. Rich often defended her as a colleague who went to jail for a principle. Though his Sunday piece mentions her as a co-author of an article that neatly expressed the WHIG point of view, he didn’t actually name her as a member.
The Daily News story essentially challenges the Times to investigate just what Miller’s involvement with WHIG really was. My guess is that they are already on it, and if they aren’t, they really need to be.
They need to devote a team of their best investigative reporters to looking hard at every Miller story, correlating its content and timing with every WHIG meeting. They need to follow Miller’s trail wherever it leads, with or without her cooperation (I’d guess without.)
It is a way for the Times to reclaim some integrity from this sorrow mess. (That wouldn’t satisfy many people here, but the Times is still nearly indispensible for most of the ruling class, especially the liberal wing, and for many others—maybe all of us—who at least at times depend on newsgathering by skilled professionals with unparalleled access. For them, the Times can still save itself.) But not doing it would be more damaging than anything so far.
Eventually, people are going to be leaving their jobs and perhaps the Times because of how this was all mishandled. But right now, this is the story they must do.
As for the bigger picture, the Fitzgerald investigation needs to unravel the whole WHIG conspiracy, not only as it touched the Plame affair, but as Rich rightly emphasizes, the selling of the tragic war in Iraq. Rich sets a high but appropriate bar for Fitzgerald. But by implication he sets it as well for his own newspaper.