By Matthew Rothschild on June 28, 2005
In Praise of Judith Miller
By Matthew Rothschild

June 28, 2005

New York Times reporter Judith Miller played an execrable role in the lead up to the Iraq War. She funneled false information onto the front page of the Times, information that backed up the Bush Administration's bogus claims about the threat Iraq allegedly posed.

In no small measure, she helped further the propaganda offensive of the Bush Administration.

For that, I believe she should have been disciplined, if not fired.

Subsequently, her reporting on the Oil for Food scandal at the UN and her reporting on British MP George Galloway has betrayed her biases.

But now I rise to her defense because she refuses to release the names of her sources, to whom she promised confidentiality, while doing reporting on the Valerie Plame-Robert Novak story. Miller never actually wrote anything on it, but that didn't stop the Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald from subpoenaing her and dragging her in front of a judge who cited her for contempt.

Judge Thomas Hogan has sentenced her to as much as 18 months in jail. He has also slapped the same sentence on Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear their appeals.

Cooper has not said what he will do next.

But Miller remains defiant, insisting she will go to jail before disgorging her sources.

"Journalists simply cannot do their jobs without being able to commit to sources that they won't be identified," she said. "Such protection is critical to the free flow of information in a democracy."

She's right.

Journalists should have cover, under the First Amendment, to go about their work in a legal manner, and providing confidentiality is, at times, pivotal to the news gathering process.

Journalists should also have cover under the same confidentiality principle that grants privileges to lawyers with their clients, doctors with their patients, and spouses with each other.

(Anthony Lewis explores this principle in the July 14 issue of The New York Review of Books, though he comes to a different conclusion.)

Fitzgerald's pursuit of Miller and Cooper is more than passing strange. The prosecutor has not brought charges against Novak, much less against anyone in the White House.

Instead, he is pursuing journalists for just doing their jobs.

I praise Judith Miller for standing up to him, and for risking time behind bars in doing so.

That is courage.

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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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