Journalistic Heroines

by padraigcolman

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday 24 October 2010

 
There was an article titled “Mumbo Jumbo” in the Sunday Leader dated 17 October, 2010,by one Sumaya Samarasinghe. The main purpose of the article was to defend Frederica Jansz against the lies told about her by other Sri Lankan newspapers.

 
Ms Samarasinghe seemed to be saying that readers were too stupid to know about Judith Miller. I know enough about Miller to question the statement: “She is an ex- New York Times journalist who refused to reveal her source and ended up spending three months in jail. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer many years later. This had a huge impact amongst journalists and questioned if the state could force journalists to reveal their sources… Does anyone remember this talented and honest reporter?”

 

 
Miller did not win the Pulitzer “many years after” spending three months in jail. She was jailed for 85 days in 2005. Miller won the Pulitzer in 2002 as part of a New York Times team covering 9/11. There was a campaign to get Miller’s award revoked.

 
Miller is an “ex- New York Times journalist” because she ruined the paper’s reputation for probity and honest, accurate reporting. The New York Times’s own ombudsman issued a scathing critique of Judith Miller’s lies and recommended that the paper not allow her back in its newsroom.

 
The “source” she went to jail to protect was Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Dick Cheney, who was convicted for obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements.

 
What noble journalistic cause did Miller go to jail for? Columnist Margaret Kimberly wrote that Miller “isn’t protecting a whistle blower. She is protecting someone who retaliated against a whistle blower”.

 
Part of the Bush case against Saddam was that he was importing yellow-cake uranium from Niger as part of his WMD project. Former US ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson, cast doubt upon this in the Times and criticised the Bush administration for “twisting” intelligence to justify war in Iraq. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. This fact was spitefully divulged publicly by the Vice President’s office thus endangering her life. For her second grand jury appearance, Miller produced a notebook from a previously-undisclosed meeting with Libby on June 23, 2003, several weeks before Wilson’s New York Times article was published. According to Miller’s notes from that earlier meeting, Libby disclosed that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA employee involved in her husband’s trip to Niger. Six days after another meeting with Libby Miller recorded in her notebook, Plame was outed as a CIA agent.

 
Miller’s main claim to fame has nothing to do with being honest or talented; it is to do with being a conduit of misinformation for the Bush government. The USA used Miller’s reporting, based on the lies they had fed her, as a contributory motive for going to war. The NYT later apologised for its behaviour but rejected “blame on individual reporters”. A Times editorial acknowledged that some of that newspaper’s coverage in the run-up to the war had relied too heavily on Ahmed Chalabi (con-man and convicted embezzler) and other Iraqi exiles bent on regime change. It also regretted that “information that was controversial [was] allowed to stand unchallenged”. Others noted that ten of the twelve flawed stories discussed had been written or co-written by Miller. It was alleged later in Editor and Publisher that, while Miller’s reporting “frequently does not meet Times standards”, she was given a freer rein than other reporters because she consistently delivered frequent front page scoops for the paper by cultivating top-ranking sources.

 
The civilian death toll following the Iraq invasion of 2003 today stands at, according to the Body Count website, which is more conservative in its estimates than the Lancet, 107,349. The US military death toll is 2,000 and taxpayer money wasted is in excess of $300 billion. As Russell Baker put it in The Nation (not the Sri Lankan one), “I am convinced there would not have been a war (against Iraq) without Judy Miller.”

 
In 2007, Miller went to work for a right-wing think tank. In 2008, she was hired by that bastion of ethical journalism, Fox News.
On Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Miller took the stand as a witness for the prosecution against Libby. There was general mirth when Miller said she could not remember conversations she had had with Libby. James Carville speculated that it was “going to be very interesting to see whether [Miller’s] problem is a first amendment [one] — i.e., “I want to protect a source”, or a fifth amendment [one] — “I was out spreading this stuff, too””.

 
Now let us move to another courtroom drama.

 

 
In the article she posted on 13 October, 2010,Frederica Jansz highlights errors made by other papers and promised a fuller response on 17 October. The 17th October ‘editorial’ is little more than a tirade at the stupidity of newspaper readers and an assertion that all newspapers except the Leader are only fit for wrapping fish. She ignores the huge elephant in the room.

 

 

Some time ago, Ms Jansz wrote that she had asked Sarath Fonseka three times about Lasantha’s death but he had refused to give a direct answer. Her answers in her testimony to the High Court in the “White Flag” case were somewhat different.

 
According to the Sunday Times of  10 October, Ms Jansz testified in the High Court that at one point during the interview with Fonseka, Lal Wickrematunge had asked the note-taker and the photographer to leave the room as he wanted to raise a personal issue with Fonseka. Lal asked Fonseka who was responsible for killing Lasantha.

 
Jansz said in response to questioning in the High Court that “she did not pay attention to what was said by Fonseka in response to that question”.

 

 

Ms Jansz is an experienced and fearless investigative journalist who over the years has been the scourge of many a corrupt businessman and many criminals. Her paper has been running a long campaign to bring to justice the killers of Lasantha. Lasantha’s brother directly asked a man likely to be in the know who killed his brother and Frederica drifts off like a dopey teenager!

 
She said that she normally did tape recordings of interviews but the paper’s recorder had been given to someone going to interview the Western Provincial Council minister. Does the paper’s budget not run to buying a second recorder? Could the UNP not have a whip-round to buy another recorder for her? Was the interview with the provincial minister considered more important than an interview with a presidential candidate who is accusing his own soldiers and government of a war crime?

 
Ms Samarasinghe exempts the Sunday Times from her accusations about papers telling lies about Ms Jansz. Is the Sunday Times accurately reporting her testimony or not? Why does Ms Jansz not address the issue?

 
The elephant in the room is beginning to smell worse than those old fishy newspapers

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