'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Judith Miller in Court and in Print 

Judith Miller was in court yesterday and she wasn't especially helpful to her old friend Scooter. But you can read about Libby's celebrity trial over at firedoglake where the liberal posters and commenters have spent the better part of almost two years fostering an almost cult-like belief that Fitzgerald's investigation will bring down this administration.

Of course, we shouldn't be that surprised. Liberals have possessed an exaggerated sense of the power of the judiciary ever since the admirable, but aberrant, achievements of the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Realists with a sense of legal history understand that the current acquiescence of the courts to the power of the Executive, along with a disinterest in anything other than administrative efficiency and the protection of corporate interests, is usually the norm.

With the neoconservatives successfully sending more troops to Iraq as the Democrats struggle to pass a non-binding resolution of opposition, the Libby trial has become little more than a sideshow, a tragicomedy about the only man in the entire Bush administration subject to the rule of law, a man facing prison for leaking the name of an intelligence operative, even as those around him enrich their themselves and their friends through war profiteering.

If convicted, one can imagine the classic stereotypical jail scene, as Libby's cellmate hears his story, and incredulously says, You're in here for WHAT? In the film version, Libby would have been played by someone like Ben Stiller, Tony Randall, Jack Lemmon or, perhaps, if pure farce, most appropriately by Don Knotts, with the director being . . . who else but Billy Wilder could have brought out all the necessary shades of black comedy?

Miller performed her obligatory cameo role, but she has made a much more important appearance in print. In this instance, stealth was essential, and, hence, her article appeared under the by-line of New York Times reporters James Glanz and Mark Mazetti. Because, after all, there is yet another war to promote, a need for more yellow journalism to help make it happen, and Miller and the Times, as always, have answered the call, but even they recognize that the Miller brand name isn't too credible anymore.

Typical of a classic Miller article about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction in 2002, the lead paragraphs grab us by the throat, while leaving the door open to subsequent repudiation, if necessary:

Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own — one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.

This is skilled propaganda, comparable to Miller at her best. For example, note the reference to the lack of any direct evidence, implying that there is indirect evidence.

After whetting our appetite, Miller then directs us through a tedious maze of conjecture, hoping that the accumulation of impressionistic detail will persuade us that there just must be an Iranian connection, with the brilliant insight being, well, of course. we all know that the Iraqis are too stupid to pull off the Karbala killings themselves, without outside assistance (entirely plausible to the reader, whether discerning or not, as Iraqis are also too stupid to govern themselves without the presence of over 140,000 US troops). This is Miller at ease with the medium, effortlessly appealing, quite effectively, to the bias of the reader, while concealing her conformity to the administration line.

Finally, at the end, there is the payoff:

Two American officials in Washington confirmed that American military investigators were looking into the possibility of Iranian involvement in the Karbala attack. One of those officials said the working assumption by the investigators was that the operation had been carried out by a splinter group of the Mahdi Army.

The second official said the operation could be seen as retribution for three recent American raids in which Iranians suspected of carrying out attacks on American and Iraqi forces were detained. On Sunday, the Iranian ambassador to Iraq conceded that two Iranians detained in Baghdad last month were security officials, but said that they were making legitimate contacts with Iraqi government officials.

Indeed, we should not be embarassed to say that, when we have the opportunity to read an article by Judith Miller, we are in the presence of a master, someone who has sharpened their skills over years of painstaking sacrifice in order to discover the essential nuances of their craft. Sadly, it appears that she must now be contented with seeing her articles reach a wider audience by having them attributed to others. Someday, she will again receive the recognition that she rightly deserves.

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