(I'm heading off to the Green Festival in San Francisco today (Nov. 4), so ActNow will take a breather until Tuesday, November 8. In the meantime, please take the time to read the archives, watch for new Nation online commentary on Wal-Mart coming soon and use the comments field to let me know about other campaigns/issues you think I should be highlighting.)
"Is Wal-Mart going wobbly?"
In his Washington Post column yesterday, Harold Meyerson tried to make sense of some unexpected recent moves by America's largest and most reviled company.
First, Wal-Mart announced plans to soon start offering more affordable health insurance to its employees. Then the company pledged to shift to more environmentally responsible policies and to start monitoring the health and safety practices of its foreign suppliers. Finally, advocates of raising the minimum-wage--stagnant since 1997--received a powerful and unexpected new ally in Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, who called on Congress to act now to raise wages nationwide.
It seems to me that these initiatives ought to be applauded. Wal-Mart is feeling the heat and reacting accordingly. (The company's share price is down 13 percent.) And this is largely a result of determined organizing dedicated to detailing Wal-Mart's role as the linchpin of the low-wage, no-benefit economy. Activist groups like Wake-Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch should take a bow.
Also at play, as Meyerson points out, is Scott's correct assessment of his own self-interest. "Wal-Mart is bumping up against a serious problem at least partly of its own making: Because it pitches its products to a disproportionately low-income clientele, its revenue rises and falls with the fortunes of the lower end of the American working class."
So when the working class is getting royally screwed, Wal-Mart will eventually feel the pain too. (Scott could, of course, raise his own workers' wages, but he dismissed that out-of-hand, saying that he's operating "in a very competitive business climate.")
So the goal for activists now is to keep up the pressure. Scott is smartly showing that he's not immune to public pressure. And that pressure is about to get worse as award-winning filmmaker Robert Greenwald's new documentary, The High Cost of Low Price, on Wal-Mart is now out and available. The film is a powerful, emotional and entertaining way to help trigger change in the way America's largest company conducts business in the US and across the globe. It has the potential to raise much more awareness about what's wrong with Wal-Mart and why--which is the reason that The Nation is part of a national network supporting and promoting the release of the documentary. (It's also a really good movie!)
This film will educate, inspire and motivate viewers and with your assistance, it will be an important part of the campaign to make Wal-Mart a better company. Here's how you can help:
Sign up today to host a screening.
RSVP to attend a screening in your neighborhood.
Download and distribute promo material about the film.
Watch and circulate the film's trailer.
And, if you're in the New York City area, check out the film this Tuesday, November 1, at a special premiere, co-sponsored by The Nation, featuring talks by Greenwald and SEIU President Andy Stern. All proceeds go to benefit the Fight to Keep New York Wal-Mart Free. Click here for special pricing information.
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price will debut in a limited theatrical run in NY and LA theaters on November 4th and will expand wide on November 13th to over 3,000 screenings nationwide in theaters, churches, colleges, community centers and living rooms in the largest grassroots mobilization in movie history. Click here for info.
Was Harriet Miers Borked?
Ever since Robert Bork, a right-wing darling nominated by Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court, was defeated by a passionate lobbying campaign waged by liberal groups, conservatives have turned his name into a verb with a derogatory meaning, as in, Those Democrats are Borking yet another judicial nominee to appease the special-interest groups on the left.
But Miers, who withdrew from consideration as a Supreme Court justice just days after George W. Bush said her nomination would go forward, must feel a little Borked herself. And her Borkers were fellow Republicans and conservatives, the same folks who once decried Borking as a danger to the Republic.
Miers' detractors on the right will say that they merely waged a crusade based on principles. They did not believe she was qualified for the job, and even though she was nominated for the position by a president they support and appeared likely to vote in a conservative manner, they took the difficult road of opposing her and Bush, citing an allegiance to ideals that transcend partisan loyalty.
True. And foes of Bork were also motivated by devotion to principles and ideals. But the Miers critics deployed tactics that conservatives had previously associated with Borking They didn't just state their opposition to Miers and engage in polite discourse; they mounted a political campaign. The anti-Miers outfit started by former Bush speechwriter David Frum, a neocon, aired negative ads targeting Miers on the Fox News Channel. Anti-Miers partisans seemed to have circulated negative information about her within the media. Stories have appeared about a payment her family--not Miers herself--received for a piece of land needed for a highway ramp that was 18 times the assessed value of the property. Vapid columns she had written years ago showed up in the hands of columnist David Brooks, who pummeled her. Conservatives have employed excessive rhetoric to denounce her. Right-wing columnist Rod Dreher wrote,
American conservatism is in a crisis at the moment because the bizarre Harriet Miers nomination imposes a surreality check on the right, forcing us to consider just how much nonsense we've had gone along with for the sake of party discipline.
Wendy Wright, executive vice president of Concerned Women of America, exclaimed,
Every time she quotes or cites a women she admires, they're to the left of Betty Friedan.
Wright was referring to speeches in which Miers once--during the confirmation process of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg--praised Ginsburg's courage and once suggested that then-Governor Ann Richards of Texas might someday be elected vice president or president. Days ago, one leader of the Federalist Society, the central command for conservative legal activists, declared that if Miers wanted to prove she was a real conservative, she would withdraw.
When Bork, a leader of the get-Harriet gang, was asked last week by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether Miers deserved the benefit of the doubt, at least until her confirmation hearings, he huffed, "What doubt?"
Moreover, conservatives often blast Democrats for voting against judicial nominees because they are afraid to buck liberal activist groups. They seem to think there is something wrong in responding to constituencies. But anti-Miers right-wingers were pressuring Republicans to vote against Miers and threatening that if a Republican senator did not do as they liked there would be a price to pay. In an October 23 column, George Will opined,
As for Republicans, any who vote for Miers will thereafter be ineligible to argue that it is important to elect Republicans because they are conscientious conservers of the judicial branch's invaluable dignity. Finally, any Republican senator who supinely acquiesces in President Bush's reckless abuse of presidential discretion--or who does not recognize the Miers nomination as such--can never be considered presidential material.
Take that, Senator George Allen. Here was Will warning Republican senators that they had better do what he, Kristol, Krauthammer, Frum and others think best...or else.
I don't believe Will was wrong to issue such a threat. The anti-Miers cons were not wrong to denounce her nomination and to campaign against it. They were not wrong to express themselves fully and passionately. They were not wrong to go looking for negative information on her They were not wrong to spread such material (as long as it was accurate). If they wanted to depict this nomination as a "crisis"--for conservatism, the country or both--that was their prerogative. They were not wrong to oppose her with much force and vigor (and they do deserve a measure of respect for placing principle over politics). But neither were the liberals wrong to oppose Bork in a fiery manner.
There are certainly differences between the Bork and Miers cases. (He was a legal scholar; she was not.) But those who care about the court are entitled to fight for what they believe, and that includes ardently opposing a nominee whom they feel would not serve the nation well. Perhaps it is time to retire Bork the verb.
Faced with a choice of Biblical proportions, America's born-again president decided to sacrifice Harriet Miers for Karl Rove's sins.
On the day when much of official Washington was buzzing about the prospect that his political Svengali could be indicted for something akin to treason, along with the chief aide of his vice president and various and sundry other administration insiders, President Bush "reluctantly accepted" the decision of his embattled nominee for the Supreme Court to withdraw her name from consideration.
There was nothing "reluctant" about it.
Miers, whose nomination was already in trouble with Senate conservatives and this week faced the prospect of a low rating from the American Bar Association that might well have destroyed her chances with moderates, was going to have to go. When the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter -- says a Republican president's nominee for the highest court in the land "needs a crash course in constitutional law," the question becomes not "if" but "when" the withdrawal will be "reluctantly accepted."Adding just a little more insult to the injury of Harriet Miers, the White House decided to use her withdrawal as part of an elaborate public-relations strategy designed to distract official Washington -- which, of course, includes the White House press corps -- from the question that has transfixed it for days: When will special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indict Rove or "Scooter" Libby or someone else or everyone else?The Miers withdrawal announcement, timed to dominate the news cycles on what would otherwise have been a day of all-indictment-talk-all-the-time, gains the president a brief respite from the around-the-clock speculation about how far the investigation of criminal wrongdoing -- the "outing" of a covert operative for the CIA and attempts to cover up for that wrongdoing -- would reach into the offices of the president and vice president.
The flip-side of the administration's calculus is this: When and if indictments finally come, everyone in Washington will quickly forget about Miers.
None of this means that the administration is in a good position -- there will still be legitimate talk about the crisis of confidence with regard to this president, and Bush's poll numbers will drop -- but it is clear that this White House is still playing the sort of political games for which it is now well known. And that should concern Americans who worry about the character of the Supreme Court.
With Miers out, and with the president and vice president linked to a serious scandal, the administration has an opportunity to come up with a replacement nominee who will draw attention away from discussions of unindicted co-conspirators and the misuse of intelligence to argue the country into a war of whim.
The choice to achieve that goal will undoubtedly be a clearly conservative jurist, almost certainly a woman, whose nomination can rally the Republican base while bringing liberals to the barricades. A rip-roaring fight over the most critical Supreme Court nomination in years is, in the thinking of administration aides, just what Bush needs to turn attention away from his other troubles -- and to suggest that those troubles have more to do with partisanship than presidential missteps and misdeeds.
The withdrawal of the Miers nomination on this critical day tells us that the administration is thinking hard about how to spin its way out of its troubles. It also tells us that, for all the talk about how loyal Bush is to his friends and his country, the reality is that, when this president is in trouble, no one and no institution is safe -- not Harriet Miers, and certainly not the U.S. Supreme Court.
It's one thing when former high-ranking members of your own Administration come out against your war. It's another thing when two-thirds of the country calls the invasion and occupation a mistake. It's really something when your own church issues a statement urging you to pull out the troops now.
Last week, the United Methodist Church Board of Church and Society--the social action committee of the church that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney belong to--resoundingly passed a resolution calling for withdrawal with only two 'no' votes and one abstention.
"As people of faith, we raise our voice in protest against the tragedy of the unjust war in Iraq," the statement read. "Thousands of lives have been lost and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in a war the United States initiated and should never have fought.... We grieve for all those whose lives have been lost or destroyed in this needless and avoidable tragedy. Military families have suffered undue hardship from prolonged troop rotations in Iraq and loss of loved ones. It is time to bring them home."
The board also issued a strong statement against torture, urging Congress to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate detention and interrogation practices at Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It is my hope and prayer that our statement against the war in Iraq will be heard loud and clear by our fellow United Methodists, President Bush and Vice President Cheney," said Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the UMC's Board of Church and Society. "Conservative and liberal board members worked together to craft a strong statement calling for the troops to come home and for those responsible for leading us into this disastrous war to be held accountable."
With its bold stands against the Administration, the UMC is fulfilling the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who called for the church to be "not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion" but "a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."
Bush has asserted that he entered Iraq on a direct order from God. Now, he has a direct order from his own church to leave. Is he listening?
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
In 1776, the Continental Congress awarded the first Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to General George Washington, a bold and determined man who had the courage to lead his country into battle for its freedom but who lacked the wisdom to recognize that the promise of the American Revolution would never be fully realized for so long as African Americans were second-class citizens.
In 1999, two hundred and twenty three years after Washington was recognized by the Continental Congress, its successor, the 106th Congress, voted overwhelmingly to award the same Congressional Gold Medal of Honor that had once been given to the man know as The Father of His Country to the woman who will forever be known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
With her December 5, 1955, refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white passenger, Rosa Parks triggered a boycott by African Americans of the municipal bus system that lasted more than a year and inspired the movement that forced the end of the officially-sanctioned segregation that had created an apartheid system in the American south.For that, and for her resolute commitment to carry on the struggle for social and economic justice throughout a long life of fighting discrimination based on race, class, sex and sexuality, Parks received many awards, all of them richly deserved.
But Parks, who died Monday at age 92, never needed those honors as much as America needed to bestow them.
And no recognition of Parks was more necessary than the awarding of that Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1999.
The American Revolution was not an event but rather a promise of freedom. That promise may have been made by a Virginia plantation owner and his white male compatriots. But it was realized by an African American seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, who refused to believe that that promise did not apply to her.
President William Jefferson Clinton, who was named for the greatest of Washington's comrades in that struggle for freedom, and who presented the medal to Parks on June 15, 1999, gave voice to that reality when he explained to the crowd that gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to celebrate the honor that, "In so many ways Rosa Parks brought America home to our founders' dream."
It was not merely appropriate that Rosa Parks receive the same recognition as George Washington had been accorded. It was essential, for without Parks and those who joined her in forging the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Washington's promise of freedom would have remained forever constricted by the overt chains of slavery and the covert chains of segregation.
Big news. The New York Times is reporting that notes taken by Scooter Libby show that he learned of Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA from his boss, Dick Cheney. These notes contradict Libby's testimony to the grand jury that he had first heard of Valerie Wilson from journalists. The paper that brought us Judy Miller reports:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 -- I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.
Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.
The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program to justify the war.
Lawyers said the notes show that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.
Mr. Libby's notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson's undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent's identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent's undercover status.
It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government's deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.
No wonder Libby may be in a mess of trouble. It's not only that his testimony might not have lined up with that of Judy Miller or that he might have encouraged her to testify in a manner to absolve him. He may have not come clean with Fitzgerald in an attempt to protect Cheney and to keep the veep out of the line of fire. If this is the case, did Cheney--or anyone else at the White House (Bush included)--know that Libby was not testifying truthfully to the grand jury to save Cheney? Would that knowledge imply consent? Conspiracy? This scandal just got uglier and even more threatening for Cheney.
A reader has sent me this query:
One thing that the Times misses is that, if Libby covered up this conversation with Cheney is it not likely that Cheney did as well when he gave sworn testimony to Fitzgerald? These two guys are smart enough to try to get their story straight if they are going to lie. If so, it appears that Cheney would be in equal jeopardy of a perjury or obstruction charge. No?
Cheney did talk to Fitzgerald in the summer of 2004, but this was not sworn testimony. Still, one critical question is whether Cheney told Fitzgerald the truth and acknowledged that he had learned of Valerie Wilson and her CIA employment (apparently from the CIA) and then passed the information to Libby. If Cheney purposefully did not tell Fitzgerald the truth--even if he was not under oath--he might be vulnerable to an obstruction of justice charge or perhaps other charges. (I am no lawyer.) But this new development raises the possibility of an orchestrated cover-up that reaches the vice president. Remember the "unindicted coconspirators" of the Watergate days? Who would believe the waiting-for-indictments period could become more intense?
Now that he's published a book about his Guantanamo ordeal, it's time to revisit the story of former Army chaplain James Yee. (I published a column about Yee in 2004 but much has happened since then and Yee's compelling narrative fills in many of the blanks.)
His book For God And Country is one decent person's account of his inhumane treatment by US military authorities. In short, the story happened like this: Yee was the only Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo's prison base, and he incurred his commanders' wrath when he told his superiors that Muslim prisoners were being abused and having their rights violated.
Prior to his arrest on bogus charges of sedition, mutiny and espionage, Yee, ironically, had received glowing commendations in reviews from his superiors. Nonetheless, armed with an arrest warrant from Guantanamo's second-in-command--but as we later found out, hardly a shred of evidence--the military put Yee in solitary confinement for 76 days. It dragged his name through the mud as officials leaked information to the media charging that Yee was a member of a Guantanamo spy ring that sympathized with Al Qaeda.
The charges were totally without merit and the case against Yee quickly crumbled, but the military's next step was vindictive in the extreme: It decided to continue the smear job by charging Yee with unrelated crimes like the commission of adultery. These charges were also eventually dropped, and Yee, in the end, received an honorable discharge.
His book tells the story of one man's struggle against this outrageous smear campaign, but it also offers a useful window onto the pattern of prisoner abuses at Guantanamo and around the world under US military authorities. Yee's account makes clear that prisoner abuses are woven into the culture of Camp Delta on Guantanamo. He's persuasive on this count: The chain of command was indeed responsible. Guantanamo's zealous commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller at one point told Yee that he hated "those Muslims" who had attacked America and killed his friends on September 11. Generally, according to Yee, Miller cultivated a blatently anti-Muslim atmosphere at the base.
Yee describes how translators and detainees told him that military interrogators ordered Muslim prisoners to get into a circle and declare that, "Satan is [my] God, not Allah!" Military authorities kicked the prisoners' Korans, ripped the Muslim holy book, beat prisoners, and mocked them as they prayed.
The anti-Islam atmosphere went far beyond commanders like Gen. Miller though. In other disturbing incidents around the country, chaplains told at least one Mormon Marine that his faith was "wicked" and evangelical Christian military chaplains have tried to proselytize to non-believers at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. (The efforts at conversion were "systemic and pervasive," a whistleblower told the New York Times.) And you probably remember hearing about Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who after September 11 assured his Christian audiences that Allah was an "idol"--that "my God was bigger" than a Muslim Somali warlord's God--and that "God put[George Bush]" in the White House so Bush could lead America in the so-called war on terror.
Yee's book reveals as well that the prisoner abuse scandals are not at all explained by the Bush Administration's argument that a few bad apples were to blame. Rather, there's an anything-goes culture that has allowed the scandals to happen. As The Nation recently editorialized, the US government has been complicit in "war crimes," and the White House reeks of "moral degradation."
The situation is so out-of-control that the Republican-led Senate recently pushed and won passage of an amendment by a vote of 90 to 9 prohibiting "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners, a measure that the White House has threatened to veto. (As the bill heads to conference, beware of efforts to water down the amendment to comply with White House demands.)
As a country, we need to take Yee's book to heart and begin to hold our political and military leaders accountable for their role in the prisoner abuses. Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman argued this past summer in The Nation that accountability is long overdue. We've had "no investigative commission" like the September 11 commission to reveal the extent of the prisoner abuse scandals. The public should demand, she argued, that the government release all directives issued by Bush and other senior officials explaining who knew what about the torture of prisoners and what steps leaders took to end the abuses. We need, Holtzman said, a "full inquiry."
In Yee's case, the military should do the same. Here was a US Army Captain who had become, as Yee writes, "the US military's poster child of a good Muslim." He made public appearances on behalf of the armed forces after graduating from West Point. Bright, patriotic, devout and articulate, Yee was a military asset and true American patriot who stood up for his beliefs and for the nation's commitment to religious tolerance and regard for human rights.
So now, the damage has been done to Yee's life and to America's reputation around the world. And until an "inquiry" begins, the breach cannot be repaired.
You may have missed it, but the first week of October was Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week. Was this catchy concept created to raise awareness of people abused by negligence or malpractice who must pursue remedy through the courts?
No. It was created BY the industries who don't want to be sued for wrongdoing or negligence (and who also happen to have the resources to run ads on Fox, CNN and MSNBC) and who would rather mislead the public into believing that "greedy personal injury lawyers" are filing so many "meritless lawsuits" that win "outrageous jury awards" that the legal system has to be fundamentally changed.
This is the fallacious argument behind "tort reform." And don't be confused–it is a fallacious argument. Medical malpractice insurance is a perfect example. The insurance industry says it has to raise rates because it gets sued too much by greedy lawyers. But these charges fall flat in the face of Bush Justice Department figures released this past summer which said that the number of tort cases resolved in US District Courts fell by 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. The truth is that medical malpractice tort costs account for less than two percent of healthcare spending, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Legal awards to patients is simply not where high health insurance costs are coming from. Want to see lower insurance rates? Regulate the industry.
The industry doesn't want to be regulated, of course, and so it has created a smokescreen. Blame victims and their lawyers. This works because so many people hate lawyers and so few people think that they will be victims. But this is a dangerous game for American citizens. What's at stake is nothing less than regular people's access to the courts.
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Executive Director of the Drum Major Institute, organized an event in New York late last month to highlight the experience of California in dramatically reducing healthcare costs through regulation. As she says, "This issue has yet to permeate the progressive consciousness, and I'm not sure why. This isn't about defending wealthy trial lawyers, or getting into the minutiae of insurance policy. This is about getting wise to the fact that the insurance industry and the White House have teamed up to boost corporate power at the expense of ordinary people's access to justice."
We better get wise fast, though. Because this is one of many issues in which the Democrats can't be counted on to defend the public, and in which the implications of the decisions made now will have a major impact on our system of justice for the foreseeable future.
"The CIA leak issue is only the tip of the iceberg," Congressman Jerry Nadler told me when I ran into him on the street near our offices on Friday afternoon. He was quick to tell me of a call--led by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Nadler, along with 39 of their House colleagues--for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation to be expanded to examine whether the White House--President, Vice-President, and members of the WH's Iraq War Group--conspired to deliberately deceive Congress into authorizing the war. And, as Nadler reminded me, lying to Congress is a crime under several federal statutes.
This is the first call by members of Congress for an expansion of Fitzgerald's probe, amid mounting evidence that there was a well-orchestrated effort by what former State Department aide Larry Wilkerson dubbed last week, "the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis" to hijack US foreign policy and knowingly mislead the Congress in order to get its support for an unlawful war.
"We are no longer just talking about a Republican culture of corruption and cronyism," Nadler says. "We now have reason to believe that high crimes may have been committed at the highest level, wrongdoing that may have led us to war and imperiled our national security." For more on this important call for the investigation's expansion, click here, and then click here to ask your elected reps to support these calls.
Even on the weekend, our obsession with the Plame/CIA leak scandal--and the Judy Miller sideshow--doesn't end. Here's a piece I posted on my blog at www.davidcorn.com.
The wheels of The New York Times turn slowly, but perhaps they are moving in the right direction. On Friday, executive editor Bill Keller sent out a memo in which he offered a "first cut" at the "lessons we have learned" from the Judy Miller mess. The memo was no defense of Miller and the Times.
To his credit, Keller starts with the original sin in the Miller scandal: her problematic prewar reporting on Iraq's WMD, which relied too heavily on administration and Iraqi exile sources and which, consequently (and perhaps purposefully) hyped a nonexistent threat. Keller, who was not the top editor when Miller ran amok on this story, wrote,
I wish we had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD as soon as I became executive editor. At the time, we thought we had compelling reasons for kicking the issue down the road. The paper had just been through a major trauma, the Jayson Blair episode, and needed to regain its equilibrium. It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors. I was trying to get my arms around a huge new job, appoint my team, get the paper fully back to normal, and I feared the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction.
So it was a year before we got around to really dealing with the controversy. At that point, we published a long editors' note acknowledging the prewar journalistic lapses, and--to my mind, at least as important--we intensified aggressive reporting aimed at exposing the way bad or manipulated intelligence had fed the drive to war. (I'm thinking of our excellent investigation of those infamous aluminum tubes, the report on how the Iraqi National Congress recruited exiles to promote Saddam's WMD threat, our close look at the military's war-planning intelligence, and the dissection, one year later, of Colin Powell's U.N. case for the war, among other examples. The fact is sometimes overlooked that a lot of the best reporting on how this intel fiasco came about appeared in the NYT.)
By waiting a year to own up to our mistakes, we allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester. Worse, we fear, we fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers. If we had lanced the WMD boil earlier, we might have damped any suspicion that THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of a reporter above the duty to its readers.
This is a serious admission. Might Keller feel his leadership at the TImes is in jeopardy? Or is he simply being a mensch? I do wonder why there has been no disciplining of Miller for her botched coverage of the WMD issue. Keller is acknowledging these "journalistic lapses" were significant and that they had a negative impact on the newspaper. So why were the people responsible for these mistakes not held accountable? After all, they caused more harm to the paper than did Jayson Blair.
Keller does not write about Miller's lead role in the WMD fiasco. But he does criticize her--and himself--for actions taken (and not taken) during the leak investigation. Keller notes that he was negligent by not fully examining Miller's involvement in the leak story and that he missed "significant alarm bells." He also says that Miller was not forthcoming with the paper and that she even misled an editor:
Until Fitzgerald came after her, I didn't know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign. I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel, a year after the fact. (In November of 2003 [Washington bureau chief] Phil Taubman tried to ascertain whether any of our correspondents had been offered similar leaks. As we reported last Sunday, Judy seems to have misled Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement.) This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper.
Indeed. He should have probed deeper. But what will Keller do, if anything, about Miller misleading Taubman? He doesn't say. And he insists that fighting Fitzgerald in court was still necessary, with this caveat:
if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with [Scooter] Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises.
And Keller seconds an email sent by Richard Stevenson, a Washington correspondent for the newspaper, who wrote:
I think there is, or should be, a contract between the paper and its reporters. The contract holds that the paper will go to the mat to back them up institutionally--but only to the degree that the reporter has lived up to his or her end of the bargain, specifically to have conducted him or herself in a way consistent with our legal, ethical and journalistic standards, to have been open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like, and generally to deserve having the reputations of all of us put behind him or her.
The implication here, of course, is that Miller did not hold up her end of that bargain. And Keller seems to be agreeing with that. So what might be her future at the paper? Keller provides no hint, and he notes that he and the top editors of the Times will continue to wrestle with the remaining issues "in the coming weeks."
For anyone rooting for the Times to remedy the Miller problem, Keller's memo was more encouraging than the articles the paper published a week ago. But, curiously, Keller did not address one of the key credibility issues created by the Miller controversy. In her first-person account--which ran last weekend and which her attorney, Robert Bennett, now says the Times forced her to publish against his advice to her--Miller noted that she agreed to Libby's request to be identified as an anonymous "former Hill staffer" when he was passing her negative information on former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. That is, Miller colluded with a senior White House official--Dick Cheney's chief of staff--to camouflage a White House attack on Wilson, a critic of the administration. This violated the Times' rules for anonymous sourcing. (Reporters are supposed to identify an anonymous source with as much information as possible so readers can determine if the source is pushing an agenda.) Put aside Miller's sloppy and misleading mission-driven WMD coverage, her inability to remember which source told her about "Valerie Flame," her suspicious discovery of a notebook referencing a conversation with Libby she had not originally told the special prosecutor about, and the gap between her absolutist, fighting-for-a-principle rhetoric about her imprisonment and the fact that she had tried to negotiate a compromise to avoid going to jail, the episode in which she offered to mislead her readers about a White House source to facilitate an administration assault on a policy critic, is the most clear-cut example of Miller's bad behavior. Yet, as far as I can tell, Keller and the Times have not acknowledged this piece of the Miller mess.
Still, Keller's memo is evidence that he finally comprehends what a jam Miller created for the newspaper and that he understands the troubles began before Fitzgerald came knocking. This is progress. And it's no accident that the day after Keller circulated his memo, The Washington Post ran a piece by Howard Kurtz--headlined, "A Split The Times & Miller"--that quoted Bennett, Miller's lawyer, bitching about the Times. The article notes that Miller would not cooperate with the Times reporters working on the paper's account of the Miller case until 24 hours before the deadline for the story. And Bennett downplayed the significance of Miller's inability to remember the first conversation she had with Libby about Joseph Wilson (in which Libby may have mentioned Wilson's wife, the undercover CIA official, weeks before she was outed in a July 14, 2003 Bob Novak column.) The fact that Bennett (and apparently Miller, too) felt it was necessary for Bennett to defend Miller after Keller had disseminated his memo is a sign that the kinship Keller and Miller displayed in public when they were presenting her as a Joan of Arc for modern-day journalism has deteriorated. (And see Maureen Dowd's acerbic slam at Miller in Saturday's Times, in which she opines that if Miller returns to the newspaper after her book leave is done untold damage will ensue.) Perhaps this will allow Keller to remedy further the problems that Miller has caused for his paper. Perhaps denial has transformed into acceptance, and Keller and the paper are ready for hard work of recovery.
TRUSTING LIBBY. Thanks to Michael Isikoff for the shout-out. On HuffingtonPost.com, he writes,
Forget the aspens turning in clusters--or, for at least the next couple of days, the prospect of indictments. (Nothing, it now seems, until next week.) The real story of last weekend's Judy Miller revelations is not what Scooter Libby may have told her about Joe Wilson's wife. It is how Libby clearly, and unequivocally, misrepresented the contents of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iraqi WMD. Save for the estimable David Corn of the Nation, nobody has picked up on this. But it's huge. At a time when questions about the Bush administration's case for war were beginning to mount, Libby assured Miller: Don't worry, there's still secret stuff out there that will prove we were right all along. As a Washington reporter who frequently writes about intelligence matters, I can assure you, this is the way it always works: "Trust me," the high level government official will tell you, "if you knew what I knew--if you could read the top secret reports I've read--you'd know why we're doing this." Only in this case, we know what Libby told Miller at their two hour breakfast at the Ritz Carleton Hotel on July 8, 2003, wasn't true.
For Isikoff's full examination of how Libby tried to mislead Miller (who seems to have been rather willing to be misled) about the prewar intelligence, see his "Terror Watch" column (written with Mark Hosenball) here.