Miller as Chalabi Stenographer
Franklin Foer’s profile of Judith Miller of the NYT and the way in which her over-dependence on the Iraqi National Congress and Ahmad Chalabi besmirched her journalistic career asks an implicit question. It is, “How could she have avoided this disaster?”
I think the problem came about because she started doing a different type of reporting. There is a difference between getting a story about bureaucratic infighting in Washington and getting a story about Iraq’s weapons programs. In the first sort of story, you can rely on principals to some extent, who are actually doing the fighting. You have to take into account that they are principals, of course, and seek some balance by talking to people on the other side. But the principals do have a fight going on, and are eager to put a good light on their role in it, to get out their side of the story. And if the story is their side of the story, then you’ve got it if you have the right people in the rollodex.
But Iraqi weapons programs or internal politics were a different type of story altogether. Miller had no access to the Iraqi principals. And the INC and the US Department of Defense were interested parties and outsiders, who were alleging things not in evidence. It wasn’t like Washington infighting.
Miller’s mistake could have been avoided by going outside the INC circle to other Iraqi experts. For instance, there were Iraqi nuclear scientists in the West unconnected to INC and Chalabi who were disgusted at the propaganda and said openly that the nuclear program was dismantled after the Gulf War. These were insiders of a sort. Miller did not seek them out or listen to them. Imad Khadduri [scroll down after clicking] was such a source, and I wrote about his account at length in February of 2003 before the war. (I.e. I was right and Miller was wrong).
Miller could also have asked around in the Iraq Middle East Studies establishment for academic views outside the beltway. Although some academics are themselves policy advocates, very large numbers are actually trying to see the world as it is, and often offer a good corrective to more self-interested accounts.
Foer does not make much of the fact that Miller co-authored her book about Saddam with Laurie Mylroie, a major purveyor of disinformation to the Washington power elite. Mylroie’s assertions are so bizarre that they in my view raise the question of whether someone somewhere is actually paying her to say these weird things. That Miller has some kind of close association with her raises other questions. The book that Miller and Mylroie co-authored, by the way, at one point professes puzzlement as to why in the world Eisenhower grew angry and made Israel give back the Sinai after the 1956 war. Inability to understand that an American president would be unhappy about a secret neocolonial plot against Egypt sprung suddenly in late October just before an American election points to an ideological hard edge that may explain why Miller got so many things so wrong.