American Society of Journalists and Authors disses Judith Miller

Editor & Publisher reports on an outburst of integrity in Medialand.

The board of The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) has voted unanimously to reverse an earlier decision to give its annual Conscience in Media award to jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller, E&P has learned.

The group’s First Amendment committee had narrowly voted to give Miller the prize for her dedication to protecting sources, but the full board has now voted to overturn that decision, based on its opinion that her entire career, and even her current actions in the Plame/CIA leak case, cast doubt on her credentials for this award.

g.a.evildoer a-t

  1. We’d hate to see Miller get an award, but…
    …some of the logic at work here is pretty distorted. Anita Bartholomew, one member who resigned from the Society in protest of the award wrote:

    “The First Amendment is designed to prevent government interference with a free press. Miller, by shielding a government official or officials who attempted to use the press to retaliate against a whistleblower, and scare off other would-be whistleblowers, has allied herself with government interference with, and censorship of, whistleblowers. When your source IS the government, and the government is attempting to use you to target a whistleblower, the notion of shielding a source must be reconsidered. To apply standard practices regarding sources to hiding wrongdoing at the highest levels of government perverts the intent of the First Amendment.

    1. There are more than one principle at stake
      Do journalists deserve blanket “source-journalist” privilege?

      Opinion differ. I vote no. Given that everyone can be a “journalist,” recognizing such legal privilege seems practically impossible.

      Did the Judge rule within the spirit of the current law?

      Seems clearly that yes. The judge had discretion to consider the public benefit of protecting the source and to give Miller a pass. He did use his discretion.

      Did the judge use his discrection correctly?

      Opinions differ. I vote present. I don’t have enough information.

      Was Judith Miller right to protect her sources and withold testimony?

      Opinions differ. I vote no. Miller’s foremost obligation as a journalist should have been to the public, not to her sources. If she thought protecting these paricular sources served a public interest in knowing some important information, Miller didn’t even try to make the case. It is clear what Miller got in return for her “high fidelity”–access. It is hard to see what the public got beside disinformation.

      Only this last question, Miller’s own judgment, not the government’s nor the judge’s, was at issue in the commentary on Miller’s qualifications for the award.

      1. You aren’t getting it.
        Your use of the inherently dismissive term “blanket” is pretty terrifying, as is your contention that because “everyone can be a “journalist'” (yeah, by the loose standards of the Independent Media Center, I suppose) we are not obliged to recognize professional privilege. I was threatened with a subpoena by the Justice Department for refusing to hand over my notes on an interview with Lynne Stewart. It could be argued that I am not “really” a journalist because WW4 REPORT (where the interview appeared) is “only” an e-zine. Should I have just capitulated? The government would have argued that I would be acting in the public interest by helping put terrorists behind bars. These arguments are inherently subjective. Subjectivity is all very fine in political discourse, but not where the law is concerned. Phil Agee exposed the identity of CIA agents (something Miller never did, by the way—she never wrote a word about Valerie Plame), and we’re all supposed to support him. I’ll say it again: Usually, journalistic privilege is invoked to protect those who expose government misdeeds—remember? If we capitulate in this case, we set a dangeous precedent, and make the proverbial noose for our own necks.

        We know that “opinions differ.” You don’t have to keep repeating it.

        1. Opinions differ
          “blanket” isn’t dismissive. It is technical. It means not subject to review.

          That everyone can be a journalist is part of the standard interpretation of the first amendment, AFAIK, not the IMC. Writing into law special privileges for “professional” journalists, as opposed to the IMC kind, is a road I’d rather not follow, especially when “professional” today means mostly “whoring for corporate America.”

          No you shouldn’t have capitulated, and we should have all supported you.

          The argument about the public interest is inherenly subjective. Agree. Subjectivity is unavoidable also in law. That is why judges must have good judgment. If you think the judicial system in the U.S. is rotten. I agree, but banning subjectivity won’t improve it. That’s the road taken by “minimum sentencing laws” for example.

          That is why Miller ought to have tried to convince the judge and us, the public, that she served our interests by refusing to testify. The judge remained unconvinced. Maybe he was wrong. As for us, the measure of Miller’s misguided loyalties is that she didn’t even try to convince us that she did the right thing.

          Instead, hers and the NYT position is that her obligation to her sources are inviolable, and not ours to question.

          Yes, Agee exposed CIA agents identities. He also made the case for why that was the right thing to do. You supported him or not because you agree or disagree with his reasoning. Miller, by contrast, thinks our support is not ours to give but hers to treat as given.

          I use “opinion differ” repeatingly in the hope of inducing you not to title your reply “you aren’t getting it.” Obviously, I failed to make my invitation to civility enticing enough. I’ll try to do better in the future.

          1. I assume you mean “opinions [plural] differ”
            Just for the record, I was arguing that my journalistic privilege should have been respected even though the “corporate whores” (no disrespect to actual sex workers intended, I hope) could argue that as publisher of a webzine, I am not “really” a journalist.

            Yes, subjectivity is unavoidable in law as in all human activities. But Miller and the Times are absolutely correct that “her sources are inviolable, and not ours to question.” There isn’t one standard for Miller and another for me, even if we do like Lynne Stewart and we don’t like Karl Rove. That’s what I meant.

            If you adopt a double standard, it’ll come back to bite you on the ass. You don’t understand how our betrayal of Miller’s rights will be used against the next reporter (if we live to see such courage again) who wants to print Pentagon Papers-type revelations about Iraq. The fact that the Supreme Court ruled the right way in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971 but refused to hear Miller’s case indicates how seriously standards for freedom have eroded over the last generation.

            I wrote “you aren’t getting it” because it appears you are failing to even understand my arguments.

            1. Different standard, not double standard
              I don’t adopt double standards. I adopt one standard, different from yours. Your standard, if I understand, is that journalists should never be asked to reveal their sources.

              My standard is that journalists should not reveal and should not be asked to reveal the identity of their sources when on the balance of evidence it appears likely that the journalist and the source collaborated in good faith to bring valuable information to the public.

              The “profession” of the journalist is to inform the public. The journalist cannot use professional privilege for non-professional purpose, just as the police officer cannot use her privilege to use firearms to settle scores with her neighbor.

              The journalist who was used by her source to disinform or manipulate the public should willingly reveal her source, and the journalist who has collaborated with her source to disinform or manipulate the public should be fired, and should have no “professional” privileges.

              In the two cases in court, first, there is Miller and her sources. No valuable information appears to be at stake. In the absence of valuable information there is no privilege according to my standard.

              Second, there is the collaboration between the New York Times and co. and the FBI to smear Wen Ho Lee, which is also under judicial review. Again, on balance, I doubt that a privilege is warranted.

              The Supreme Court case re: Pentagon Papers was about “prior restraint” and the First Amendment. AFAIK, it had no relvance to the issue of source anonymity.

              The relevant precedent is Supreme Court 1972 ruling that judges only need “a compelling state interest” in order to force journalists to testify. That is yet a third standard, which is current law, and which I reject.

              1. A totalitarian standard
                The prior restraint and source anonymity issues are both about the state seeking to weild power over the press.

                The “compelling interest” argument is the only conceivably legitimate one, actually—although it was applied far too broadly in 1972’s Branzburg v. Hayes, in which a Louisville reporter was made to reveal sources in a story about drug trafficking. I don’t understand how you can oppose such totalitarianism in that case, but support it in Miller’s.

                How do you perceive that Miller “used professional privilege for non-professional purpose”? Given that she didn’t write a word about Plame (for the umpteenth time) it’s hard to see how she “used” her privilege for anything at all in this case. And even if she had, why is it not “valuable information” that Plame is a CIA agent? Valuable to whom? Making this subjective standard the test for journalistic privilege is terrifying.

                And where are your harsh words for Matthew Cooper, by the way? He was also willing to go to prison to protect his source.

                Maybe you would be happier at USA Today.

                1. Totalitarian ?????????
                  Why is Palmer’s identity not valuable? I don’t know. Maybe it is. I’m ready to listen to a plausible argument, if Cooper, Miller, Novak, or anyone else offers one.

                  How do we decide “valuable”? The same way we decide “compelling,” “novel,” “artistic,” “offensive,” “harmful”, “reliable”, “in good faith”, “deceptive”, etc., by hearing opposite arguments and deciding which is more persuasive. This method of finding the truth was pioneered 2,500 years ago in Athenian democracy.

                  Whether Miller used her sources doesn’t change a thing. If she believes she received valuable information, she should explain how so. So far, the only argument we heard is that Plame’s identity was given to journalists to punish Wilson. Miller is welcome to make a plausible counter-argument.

                  Our world is full of terrifying subjective tests. If you call that “totalitarian,” I can only say that that your use of the world is unorthodox.

                  1. Yes, totalitarian (!!!!!!!!!)
                    The point is, there shouldn’t be any test for what is “valuable” information. Are you arguing that the identity of the spooks revealed by Agee was “valuable” because they were thugs, while that of Plame is not because we supported her contention that Iraq had no WMD? You really want to start applying a subjective political test in such cases? Then they will forever be determined solely by which faction has the upper hand—and believe me, it ain’t us these days.

                    Yes, totalitarian. Fuckin’ A.

                    And once more, Miller never wrote about Plame. The whole thrust of your argument has been that she served as a conduit for a White House leak, yet when I point out that that is demonstrably not the case, you say it “doesn’t change a thing.” She was targeted merely for conducting an interview and taking notes! And Cooper did (apparently) serve as a conduit for a White House leak, yet you strangely have no opprobrium for him.

                    I support Miller because her imprisonment makes the world a more dangerous place for me as a journalist, and I came too close for comfort with such a showdown in the Lynne Stewart case. Maybe if you were more interested in journalism as opposed to opinion-laden bloggery you would get it. Funny how every major journalists’ organization (Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, InterAmerican Press Association) is supporting Miller, while ideologues like you and (unfortunately) FAIR are throwing principle to the wind.

                    I never thought I’d live to see the day that the left is upset that a CIA agent was outed! We really are through the looking glass!

                    You are indeed greasing the slippery slope towards totalitarianism. Alas, the left has a stupid habit of doing that (waving pom-poms for Stalin, Milosevic, Saddam, equivocating on mass murder at 9-11 and Srebrenica, supporting “hate speech” laws, saying the First Amendment just protects “privilege,” etc.)

                    1. I have no problem with outing CIA agents
                      If Cooper wants to out every CIA agents he comes across, I’ll be thrilled. If he only outs CIA agents who annoy the President, I’m not.

                      I want to know on whose side Cooper, and Miller, and Novak work. So far it seems to me obvious that they work in the state, not for the public, and certainly not, as you romantically believe, against the state. Your fantasy about the big struggle between the press and the the state comes straight from the land of Oz. Occasionally the state and the press have friendly scuffles about influence, but usually they get alone quite fine because they are parts of the same system of capitalistic domination. And the “privilege” you want is the freedom of the corporate press to serve the government without any limits.

                      No, our side isn’t winning, but that’s no reason to ditch the principle that the public space belongs to the public. That has nothing to do with the faction in power.

                      And just so that I keep a level playing field, I feel that I need to use the word fucking. So here, I just did. I feel better already.

                      For the record, I never supported any of your laundry list of “causes celebres.” But I’m sure they prove somehow that I’m a bad, bad person, utterly devoid of moral fibre.

                    2. Please keep Frank Baum out of this
                      There you go putting words in my mouth again. I certainly don’t believe Judith Miller works against the state. Nor do I think she works for it, exactly. I think she works for the New York Times, and (like many before her) has developed a dangerously incestuous relationship with the White House—which is not synonymous with “the state,” even now. Even Bush hasn’t quite been able to acheive l’etat cest moi (yet). If Miller is working “for the state” funny that she’s in jail.

                      I was just bemoaning how the Supreme Court which ruled for the free press and against the state in 1971 refused to hear Miller’s case—a sure sign that the separation of press and state has eroded. But again, the fact that Miller is behind bars is evidence that it hasn’t disappeared completely.

                      The “privilege” I want is the privilege not to turn my Lynne Stewart interview transcripts over the feds, thank you. If that interest is served by supporting the professional privilege of my political enemies, so be it.

                      This principle in no way contradicts the idea that the public space belongs to the public.

                      I never said you were devoid of moral fibre. I said just the opposite: that you are obsessed with moral purity. Your problem is zealotry, which is often worse than mere immorality.

                    3. Zealotry
                      Funny, you believe that Journalists should have absolute privilege and you accuse me of zealotry.

                    4. If the shoe fits…
                      I didn’t say “absolute” (there you go putting words in my mouth again), but I certainly believe in erring on the side of freedom of the press. You apparently think politics takes precedent over principle. That’s zealotry.

      2. By the way
        Reporters Without Borders, which is held as a voice of some authority in these matters, stated that the judge violated current law and internationally-held standards. So I would say the answer to this question is considerably less than “clearly that yes.”

        And I assume you mean “There is more than one principle at stake.” Try to at least pay attention to grammar in your headlines, OK?