To the Editor:
Richard Cohen's defense of Judith Miller's principles (Aug. 2) defends the New York Times reporter from attacks on her honest mistakes, and suggests that other reporters and the Bush Administration made honest mistakes as well. But this completely misses the point being made by those who maintain that Miller's is not a good case on which to build a defense of journalists' rights, as well as the point being made by critics of Bush's drive to war.
We maintain that there is compelling evidence of dishonesty by both Bush and Miller, that Miller is not a journalist, and that Miller's sources are not sources.
For the case against Bush, see, among other things, your June 28, 2005, front page article on the Downing Street Memos, which -- after massive public pressure -- was printed about a week after your editorial claiming that those documents "add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002." Known to whom? Clearly you can't answer "Judith Miller" and continue to defend her work.
For the case against Miller and her sources, begin with these considerations:
Miller made clear through her writing and affiliations that she favored an attack on Iraq. She's been promoted as a speaker for the Middle East Forum, which advocated attacking Iraq. She's published books widely criticized as anti-Muslim.
Miller formally accepted US Military censorship of her articles for the New York Times, violating a standard of journalism at least as significant as that of loyalty to honest sources.
Miller used as a primary source for her horror stories about WMDs a man with a conviction for embezzlement, a reputation for fraud, a publicly stated interest in moving the United States to attack Iraq, and knowledge of Iraq limited by his not having lived there for four decades.
Miller took the bizarre step of reporting on claims that WMDs had actually been found while making fairly clear that the US military had not allowed her to actually SPEAK TO her "source."
Miller's articles routinely present claims that support militarism as unquestionable or confirmed, although they come from a single source with an obvious interest in the story.
If the above considerations are not enough, consider that the source(s) whom Miller is now protecting are known now (even, presumably, to Judith Miller) to have been engaged not in whistleblowing but in attacking a man who was blowing a whistle on their fraudulent justifications for war. Protecting dishonest sources whose motivation was not to educate a democratic public but to send its young people to kill and die for a lie is not journalistic ethics. It may be mafia ethics or Tom Delay ethics, but it's not journalism.
Of course we must protect the right of journalists to confidential sources. And of course that must include journalists whom I don't like. But stenography for military officials is not journalism, and when it masquerades as journalism it becomes extremely damaging.
Would Bush have gone ahead with his war without Judith Miller? Sure. But that excuses neither her nor anyone else who assisted him, and Richard Cohen's suggestion that it does raises questions about your general grasp of ethics.