Sunday, August 17, 2014

Pretty state of things

Image from Hastings on Nonviolence.
Maureen Dowd didn't like the reporter Judith Miller much. Or rather, she liked Miller a lot, but in a special Dowdy sort of way:
I've always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp.

The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy -- her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur -- have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.
Sometimes I wonder if Dowd isn't a fictional character invented by Clare Booth Luce to preserve the worst early 20th-century stereotypes of the independent woman as uncontrollably catty misogynist. Anyhow, what she didn't seem to think at all was that Miller's jailing for contempt of court in the summer of 2005 was a case of "strange and awful aggression against reporters and whistle-blowers". Au contraire!
...people wonder whether her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project....

I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.
There are a number of good reasons for not conflating the Miller case with that of reporter James Risen, which seems likely to reach some kind of climax in a matter of weeks from now.

For one thing, the crime Miller witnessed, Lewis Libby's outing of an active undercover agent for the CIA, was pretty serious, and harmful to the national interest (the loss of Valerie Plame's Iran network made the Bush administration ever more dependent on the false information on Iran spread by the terrorist MEK organization and its Israeli patrons). And then her own freedom of speech hardly seemed involved, since she never used Libby's information for a story.

Risen, in contrast, is threatened with jail for refusing to name a source used in the reporting of his own 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration, the writing of which was a clearly protected activity, and revealing the information in question, on Operation Merlin, a typical piece of CIA black ops idiocy, was arguably a public service (the plan was to sabotage Iran's imaginary nuclear weapons program by giving them a bad design for a warhead—the Russian double or triple agent who communicated it to the Iranian scientists quickly got spooked and told them it was a bad design, so that they could have used it as a helpful engineering guide on how not to do it if they had been building a warhead, which of course they weren't).

Also, of course, you couldn't argue that Miller was being persecuted by the government, since she was more or less collaborating with its Fourth Branch, Vice President Cheney, against the efforts of the independent special counsel Patrick FitzGerald on the side of the people. Whereas Risen is being directly attacked by the Obama Justice Department, which issued a new subpoena in 2010 after the original Bush one expired in 2009, and then a third after Judge Leonie Brinkema nixed the second one in 2011 (the Supreme Court declined to review the case just last June, which is why the story has become so heated recently).

There seems to be no doubt whatever in the real rational world that Risen's source was Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA officer (ops) who was fired after he and the agency found themselves unable to resolve his complaints of racial discrimination (he's black, and I'm inclined to take his word against that of Father Brennan, CIA  deputy executive director at the time) and then prevented from publishing his memoirs, and finally charged with unlawful detention and unauthorized disclosure of National Defense information at the end of 2010, between Risen's second and third subpoenas. Or that what Sterling did (as opposed to what Risen wrote), revealing classified information, was illegal. Nevertheless, the Justice Department insists they can't adequately prove it in court unless Risen appears before a jury to say so, and Risen insists he can't reveal a source even though everybody already knows who it is.

Here's a pretty mess!
Threatened with duress!
Sacred secrets have been told and
Criminals will be emboldened
If you don't confess—
Here's a pretty mess!

From DownloadAtoZ.
Dowd herself seems to favor Risen particularly because unlike Judy Miller he's male and Irish, and reminds her somewhat of a very large slice of cheese, or possibly a typeface:
The tall slab of a reporter looks like someone who could have played an Irish Marine sergeant in an old World War II movie.... he inherited his skepticism about government from his mom, who grew up in Indiana during the Depression, the daughter of an Irish railway machinist who was often out of work.
And she approves of his dress sense:
Over lunch near the White House on Friday, Risen, dressed in his Men’s Wearhouse shirt and khakis and his brown Ecco walking shoes...
ECCO Fusion, with moccasin toe. 
But she is clearly out of her depth here. For instance:
The Justice Department is trying to scuttle the reporters’ privilege — ignoring the chilling effect that is having on truth emerging in a jittery post-9/11 world prone to egregious government excesses.
There isn't any such privilege, as clarified by the Supreme Court in Branzburg v. Hayes (1972). The Obama administration has been attempting to create a bit of a privilege since taking office in 2009 with a federal journalists' shield law, and although all the journalists agree that it's not good enough that is not the same thing as trying to scuttle it; in fact it is exactly, though no doubt inadequately, the opposite. (And it's Republicans who have killed it, if you needed to ask. And she really needs to find a noun or something to put between "effect that" and "is", it's a ghastly awful clause as it is with its smashup of modifiers, but a little grammar wouldn't hurt.)

As to whether Truth is refusing to clamber out of her heated pool until the clouds clear, that's a matter of opinion. As I've said before, reporters nostalgic for the openness and transparency of the Bush administration, like David Sanger, seem to be mad at Obama for not leaking them enough lies, and giving Pete Souza a monopoly on the puppy and baby shots. My best guess is that, ashamed at having been played so thoroughly by Bush's henchpersons, they have adopted a style of constant suspicion that is in the long run just as ridiculous. Risen, though, was well ahead of the curve on recognizing what the Bush people were up to.

Why didn't the Wall Street Journal's people get to shoot this? Censorship!! Chilling effect!!!
Holder said in May that “no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail,” trying to show some leg and signal that his intention is benign, merely to put pressure on Sterling so that he will plead guilty before his trial.
The president and the attorney general both spoke nobly about the First Amendment after two reporters were arrested in Ferguson, Mo., while covering the racial protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s death....
So why don’t they back off Risen? It’s hard to fathom how the president who started with the press fluffing his pillows has ended up trying to suffocate the press with those pillows.
I'm not sure what "showing some leg" is in this context, or in what sense the press fluffed his pillows for him, though it sounds pretty erotic in a 1930s kind of way, but why would the administration be "signaling" an intention to do something if they don't intend to do it? Holder just loves surprises?
“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistle-blowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”
Easy for me to say, no doubt, since I know for sure I'm not going to jail, but that's over the top, or operatic as Maureen Dowd would have said if it was Judith Miller. It's not so much that I don't want to believe it, though of course I don't. It's especially that I can't understand why Obama would "want to crack down" (I thought you were saying he cracked down already), while so anxiously and clumsily doing the opposite at the same time. I think what Obama wants to do is get rid of the stupid case without looking as if it's his stupidity, which will be a pretty neat trick if he swings it.

I'm going to come right out and make a prediction, not that adventurous (I'm pretty sure you could easily get 2-1 odds among the people who, unlike me, actually know about the case): in the next couple of weeks or months, federal prosecutors are going to get a plea deal with Jeffrey Sterling; there will be no trial for Risen to testify at. It will continue to be the case that the Bush administration sent an infinitely larger number of reporters to jail than the Obama administration (that's how much more one is than zero). Obama will get no praise for this from Maureen Dowd.

Rehearsals of the 1987 English National Opera production. There's a moment where Eric Idle cracks up Jonathan Miller so hard Miller ends up on the floor, it'll make you cry. I'm watching the show itself tonight, I think, if the family lets me, but I have to do laundry.

Update: So I blame Sterling, who refused to take a plea, stretched the process out to five months, and got himself three and a half years. He should have taken my advice. On the other hand, Risen was indeed not asked to testify, and Maureen Dowd indeed has never said a word about the case since. So I'm half right?

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