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2005-10-17

New York Times Contributor Barbara Ehrenreich: Judith Miller’s Access to Power Was More Important to the Times Than Truth

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Ehrenreich discusses the latest about Times’ reporter Judith Miller and the CIA leak story. She criticizes the Times’ editors for their handling of the affair: "This has called into question the judgment of the newspaper that I rely on." [includes rush transcript]

  • Barbara Ehrenreich, author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Barbara Ehrenreich. Throughout her three decades of journalism and activism, Barbara Ehrenreich has been one of the most consistent chroniclers of class in America. She is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller, Nickel and Dimed: Surviving in Low Wage America. That book, which was inspired by welfare reform legislation that pushed some 12 million women into the labor market, described her attempt to live on low wage jobs, making between $6 and $7 an hour. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning women, a nursing home aide and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She found that with even all of her advantages, race, education, good health, lack of children, her income barely covered her monthly expenses.

Well, she has written a new book. It’s called Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. In it, Barbara Ehrenreich explores the plight of white collar workers forced from jobs by corporations constantly on the hunt for lower-salaried younger workers. She goes undercover again, this time as a middle-aged professional trying to get a white collar job in corporate America and finds people who are playing by the rules, going to college, being loyal to their employer are all to often ending up in financial ruin. Barbara Ehrenreich, thanks for joining us.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Good to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. I want to talk about your second undercover stint, but before I do, just a quick comment. You have been writing for the Times all summer, a series of columns. Your thoughts on the whole Judith Miller affair?

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Well, the surprising thing to me is not just that the Times would, you know, refuse to print articles about the whole Plame business during this period, but that they made this First Amendment goddess out of Judith Miller. It wasn’t just omission. You know, on the editorial page, she was the great heroine of the First Amendment. So they —- I think they have to answer for that, Sulzberger and Keller, whoever is behind it, because, you know, we knew from anybody paying the slightest attention, and you didn’t have to get into the details of it to know that she was not covering up or, you know, concealing the identity of some brave whistleblower, but she was covering up the identity of a person who tried to punish a man who had, you know, posed doubts about the weapons of mass destruction -—

AMY GOODMAN: A whistleblower himself, Joe Wilson.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Yeah. So, you know, right from the beginning, it was, "What? We’re supposed to get all behind this person?" And that part of the drama, I think, requires a great deal of explanation from on high, too. I really agree with Greg Mitchell, what he was saying, this is not over. You know, this really — this has called into question the judgment of, well, the newspaper I rely on and now feel just a little bit more, you know, distant from.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Ehrenreich, the Times said that they had reached a 152-year low in the case of the Jayson Blair affair, the young man who plagiarized and fabricated stories. Do you think that takes them even lower?

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Oh, yeah. I mean, Jayson Blair did no damage to the nation. He had a big imagination. He didn’t want to travel, so he kind of made some stuff up. But, you know, this is different. This is tied to policy and, you know, I have to wonder why the power of this one woman, Judith Miller, in the Times, and all I can think of is that like many other mainstream media outlets, they’re very, very concerned with access to the highest places in government and, you know, power wherever it is.

Judith Miller had that access, and that was more important to them than truth, apparently. There is a problem, you know, of getting too much access, getting too friendly with those people you’re interviewing, getting embedded and in bed with them, which in a sense, you know, she was, and that’s where mainstream journalism very easily crosses the line into becoming spokespeople for those in power. And that’s what the Times became.

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