The writer William Sidney Porter, who wrote under the nom de plume O. Henry, once observed that no one experiences happiness to the extent that a martyr does. Judith Miller may disagree.
Miller, the imprisoned New York Times reporter, has never claimed martyr status. That's been left to her executive editor, William Keller, who has been trying, without much success, to portray Miller as a martyr to the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate.
Miller was jailed last month by a federal judge for refusing to cooperate with a special prosecutor investigating the possibly illegal outing of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative.
Plame 's identity as the wife of career diplomat Joseph Wilson was made public by columnist Bob Novak following conversations with White House sources apparently eager to discredit Wilson for helping give the lie to British and Cheney/Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger to advance his nuclear weapons development program.
Wilson was sent by the CIA to investigate the story. He, along with others, found the claims to be false and based on a forged document, but the lie made it, nonetheless, into Bush's 2002 State of the Union speech .
Wilson responded with an op-ed piece in the Times that July, and the White House retaliated swiftly. Miller, who talked with administration officials about the issue but never wrote about it, refused to divulge her sources and was jailed. She was immediately hailed by Keller and some others as a champion of journalistic principle and integrity. In fact, her journalistic integrity level was and is scarcely above that of Jayson Blair, the erstwhile Times reporter banished for his creative writing tendencies.
A few months ago, the Times, in a rare moment of public introspection, allowed as how some of its stories about the war in Iraq war had been less than credible. It cited about a dozen examples. Most of them, although the Times never said so at the time, had been filed by Miller.
One of Miller's prime sources of information, or misinformation to put it more realistically, both before and after the invasion, was Ahmed Chalabi, the convicted Iraqi embezzler and since discredited darling of the Republican neocons -- Perle, Wolfowitz, Adelman, Rumsfeld, Feith and Cheney -- who had been plotting a takeover of Iraq long before there was a second Bush administration.
As columnist Arianna Huffington noted recently, it was Miller's closeness to Chalabi and the neocons that got her embedded with the Pentagon's Mobile Exploitation Team, the group tasked with finding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; a daunting assignment, in that they didn't exist.
Military officers assigned to the team said it soon became known as the "Judith Miller team." Miller, one officer said, "ended up almost hijacking the mission." Another said Miller "was always issuing threats of either going to The New York Times or to the Secretary of Defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat."
Huffington also quotes an unnamed source who said Miller harbored a long-standing hatred of Wilson. This has led to speculation that Miller herself may be the elusive "source" that Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to identify. Karl Rove or Scooter Libby or both may have been Novak's source, but could Miller, who had sources inside the CIA, have been their source? Time will tell, perhaps.
Meanwhile, Miller's martyr status took a beating last week when the board of directors of the American Society of Journalists and Authors reversed an earlier decision to give its annual Conscience in Media award to her.
The Society's explanation: "A feeling that Miller's career, taken as a whole, did not make her the best candidate for the award."
Perhaps a more honest explanation would be that in order to be the conscience of the media, you first have to have one of your own.
David Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sunday-Bulletin.
© 2005 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin