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Sunday, October 16, 2005

From Martyr to Wal-Mart

Without both agreements, I would not have testified and would still be in jail.
So, finally, did New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, speak about her role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, convincing herself that the First Amendment martyrdom that surrounds her plight (and the positioning of her in this role by The New York Times) remains her angle, even though she essentially violated the principle she claims to have upheld. At the end of the day, using a combination of factors such as voice tone, a letter and other such “fine tuning,” she agreed to testify in a grand jury investigation, revealing her confidential source, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to avoid continued imprisonment. As she told her friend, Times editor Claudia Payne: “'I don't want to spend my life in here.”

While Americans are famous for parsing words, it seems hard to imagine someone like Nelson Mandela changing his principle after a couple of months behind bars and claiming that the definition of violence had been adequately redefined for him to change his tune and renounce it, as was demanded by the South African government at the time of his imprisonment.

On Tuesday, Miller is to receive a First Amendment award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

While this is clearly a more complicated case than a black and white whistle-blowing scenario, and while The New York Times has demonstrated a continued commitment to support their reporters in pursuance of First Amendment principles, the motives and behavior of Judith Miller leave a bad taste in the mouths of many – including her colleagues at the New York Times.

Even First Amendment icon and lawyer, Floyd Abrams, in his representation of Judith Miller, evoked a credential-based First Amendment protection hierarchy for the press that can only ultimately be determined by a revenue structure -- a disappointing and frightening prospect. "If everybody’s entitled to the privilege, nobody will get it," he was quoted by The New York Sun. Free speech if you can afford it.

The growing disgust over American media is hardly a new phenomenon, but rather than crystallize the rock solid notion of journalists protecting sources to report truthful information, Miller’s record on reports of weapons of mass destruction embarrassed the New York Times enough to issue a public apology, demonstrated the ease with which she was manipulated to pedal information in a manner only slightly more dignified than that of Maggie Gallagher or Armstrong Williams (who prostituted their journalistic reputation for cold hard cash); and lifted the sordid cover off the cozy relationship between “embedded” reporters and the power brokers they cover, perhaps under covers, if not undercover.

Judith Miller will ultimately write a juicy book as an insider and player in this scandal, but her reputation as an ace reporter and First Amendment martyr might be a little harder to sell.

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