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2005-11-11

Arianna Huffington on the Retirement of Judith Miller and Schwarzenegger’s Ballot Defeat

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We speak with columnist and author Arianna Huffington about the resignation of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot defeat. Huffington says of Miller: "How can you be so cavalier as a journalist about reporting that is so fundamentally wrong, not about any matter, but matters of life and death, war and peace?" [includes rush transcript]

On Wednesday, the New York Times announced Miller would be leaving the paper after a controversial 28-year career. Miller said it was in part because "I have become the news."

For years, Judith Miller has been one of the most controversial reporters at the New York Times. In the lead-up to the Iraq war, she wrote a series of stories claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Her stories were often cited by the Bush administration in its efforts to sell the war against Iraq.

Judith Miller’s reporting was controversial, even within the New York Times newsroom. In 2003, the paper’s executive editor, Bill Keller, told Miller she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Miller made headlines this year when she went to jail for 85 days in order to protect a source in the CIA leak investigation. That source turned out to be Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the now-indicted former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

For years, critics accused Miller of being too close to her high-placed sources, from Libby to Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi to top Pentagon officials. Last month, Miller revealed she had a Pentagon security clearance while embedded with US military teams hunting for banned weapons in Iraq. This would have allowed the Pentagon to show her classified information, but bar her from reporting on it.

Up until her resignation on Wednesday, tension had been growing at the Times over her future. Two weeks ago columnist Maureen Dowd described her as a "Woman of Mass Destruction."

  • Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor of the website HuffingtonPost.com. She has written extensively about Miller on her website. She is a syndicated columnist and author of 10 books including "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America." In 2003 she ran for governor of California.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: To talk about the resignation of Judith Miller we’re joined by Arianna Huffington in our Firehouse studio. She’s written extensively about Miller on her website HuffingtonPost.com. She’s co-founder and editor of the site. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: We also want to ask you about California politics, but before we do that, you have been writing extensively about Judith Miller. Your thoughts now upon her resignation?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, when I started writing about her back in July, the universal perception was that she was a First Amendment hero who had gone to jail to protect her sources. And it was really little by little that we saw that this was not at all the story, and the question of her W.M.D. coverage for The New York Times is very important here. It’s not a side issue. It is absolutely connected to her relationship with Scooter Libby, to the fact that she had, as we now know, three conversations or breakfasts or meetings him since the indictment period that Fitzgerald is looking at for Scooter Libby. You know, and in the first meeting apparently there was also that name Valerie Plame that mysteriously appeared in her notebook that she found subsequently to the indictment, and we still don’t know, she still has not told us, who was the person who gave her that name. She claims it was not Scooter Libby.

There are an enormous amount of unanswered questions, but the biggest question for me is the connection between a journalist for The New York Times, who has access to the front page of the most important paper in the world in terms of credibility, and this administration. And that, for me, is the key. There’s one key date of September 8, when Judy Miller writes a story on the front page of the The New York Times about the aluminum tubes that posed — the greatest evidence supposedly we had about the nuclear threat that Iraq presented to this country. And this is clearly a story, as we’re now finding out, that had been fed to her by Scooter Libby, the senior administration official quoted in the story, and on that same day Cheney goes on Meet the Press and touts the nuclear threat and says it’s not me saying that, it’s The New York Times. So we see that way in which the administration was feeding Judy Miller information and then going on TV to quote her story to prove their case.

AMY GOODMAN: And that piece was written by both Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, which goes to another issue and that is the institutional support. With Judith Miller gone, perhaps it’s the _Times_’ hope that this is all behind them now, but those pieces weren’t put on the front page by Miller, though she might have liked that. You had the editors editing, you had the decision of the editors to position them in a way that would have the greatest effect in this country. What about that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, absolutely. That argument leaves the big question, and I’m not really at all satisfied that Judith Miller’s going is going to deal with it. Last night Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the paper, was on Charlie Rose for an entire hour, and he dismissed, for example, the W.M.D. problems by saying, ’We’ve dealt with them.’ Well, of course, they have not dealt with them. You mentioned Bill Keller’s mea culpa, but during that mea culpa, he also said that they were going to actually now look at how it came that these stories found themselves on the front pages of their paper, and they have not done that full investigation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: There is the issue, for instance, of in Judith Miller’s agreement with her discussions with Libby to actually falsely identify him at one point as a former Capitol Hill staffer, rather than as a top administration official, which seemed to lend credence to the idea that she was actually participating in the efforts to mask the attacks that were occurring on — because she did say she was intending to write a story about Joe Wilson that obviously never made the paper, so that clearly she may have been an actual — not just — she may have been an actual participant in the attempt to ruin his reputation or raise questions about what he had already written in the Times.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, my sources within the Times, and as soon as I started writing about it on the Huffington Post, it was amazing how many people would come to me off the record, in emails, on the phone or in meetings to tell me about Judith Miller and how distraught they were by the way that the Times had been hijacked by her, long before all these misgivings became public. So what I was told is that she was incensed with Joe Wilson. She was personally affronted by the fact that his op-ed appeared in her newspaper, challenging the administration, because as far as she was concerned, he was challenging her own reporting on W.M.D.

As you said, she was not an observer. She was not a neutral journalist; she was entangled. And Bill Keller used that word "entangled" that he got into a lot of trouble with with Judith Miller, who specifically basically asked him to withdraw the word, because she took it to mean a sexual entanglement with Scooter Libby. But from my point of view, a sexual entanglement is not the problem here. The problem here is the entanglement in the ideology, in the neo-con ideology that saw invading Iraq as part of remaking the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: I was astounded, Arianna Huffington, last night in watching The Charlie Rose Hour with Arthur Sulzberger, when he said — he referred to the whole case of that young reporter Jayson Blair, and we all know about him because, you know, he plagiarized, he fabricated stories. We know, because the Times did a something like a five full page spread on this young reporter, you know, forced him out. He had made up a lot of the these stories. And Arthur Sulzberger said last night, what this is all about cannot be compared with that. In other words saying that that was much more serious. At the time, they said that this was a 152-year low for The New York Times, the story of Jayson Blair. But I care a lot less about the Jayson Blair affair than I do about the Times coverage of the Bush-Blair affair, saying that what the Times did over the last two years in continually alleging weapons of mass destruction does not compare in seriousness to Jayson Blair affair — is what Arthur Sulzberger said. How do you take that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I completely agree with you. I found it a really disturbing interview. And I did not watch it; I just read transcript. But I would like to watch it, because I hear that Sulzberger was fidgeting and visibly uncomfortable at many moments, including when that moment of the — he used the word "entanglement" in the interview and immediately apologized, as though he was going to get a lawsuit from Judith Miller. But on your more important point, I completely agree with you. This story is not over, and the responsibility of the The New York Times in the lead-up to the war is really serious.

And you know, it’s not even over in terms of how they are covering stories now. I mean, I wrote about the fact that in repeated stories they refer to Ahmed Chalabi as the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. I mean, this is like saying that Ken Lay is a Houston businessman. It’s really not reporting the facts, and now that’s beginning to change. This week, actually, yesterday they had a great editorial criticizing Chalabi, but here we have today in New York, Chalabi is going to speak at the Council of Foreign Relations at 4:00 in the afternoon. I’m going to go there, and I hope I’m going to be allowed to ask a question, because, to me, it is outrageous, outrageous to have Chalabi be given a platform by a prestigious institution like the Council of Foreign Relations and have meetings in Washington with Condoleezza Rice and other members of the administration, when clearly he’s one of those who misled this country into war, he has been repeatedly accused of spying against America for the Iranian government. I mean, he’s under investigation by the Justice Department and celebrated by the State Department. It doesn’t make any sense.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t it the U.S. military that raided Chalabi’s home in Iraq, saying he was passing secrets to Iran?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. Exactly. And what happened to all that? You know, it’s very troubling, whether it is in this administration or in the media, to see so many questions really ignored and brushed under the carpet. We had the same thing yesterday with Larry King interviewing Judith Miller. I mean, there were so many questions that were never asked, and the way she answered the first question about whether she regretted anything, and she said, "No," how can you say that without including the reporting that she did? How can you be so cavalier as a journalist about reporting that is so fundamentally wrong, not just about any matter, but about matters of life and death, war and peace.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the impact that this had on journalists across the country. I remember about two months ago getting a phone call from Linda Foley, the President of the Newspaper Guild, a good friend of mine, and I respect her as a labor leader, but she was trying to get prominent journalists to sign onto a letter that would be published in The New York Times, defending Judith Miller and press freedoms, and I told her at the time, I said, "Linda, from what I’ve been able to see about this story, I don’t want to make Judith Miller the martyr for freedom of the press in this country, although I agree we need a national shield law," and refused to participate in the letter.

But I think that the question of the impact on the Times and on journalists across the country, because the Times now has had not only the Judith Miller and the Jayson Blair situation, they had the Rick Bragg situation and they had the Wen Ho Lee coverage, so that now there’s been really major major scandals in terms of coverage of The New York Times, and I’m beginning to question when will someone ask what’s Arthur Sulzberger’s responsibility. Maybe the Times needs to look for a new publisher for that newspaper that — of course, now it would have to be another Sulzberger or somebody else in the family, but the reality that there have been so many scandals now about New York Times coverage has an impact on journalists across the country, because if this is the paper supposedly of the highest standards in the corporate press, what’s happening in journalism nationwide?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, if you go to HuffingtonPost.com, you will see a lot of stuff I’ve written, challenging, in fact, Sulzberger’s leadership, including a humorous piece I did about the fact that here we have George Bush in Washington and Arthur Sulzberger in New York, you know, both members of the lucky sperm club, you know, who got there because of who their dads were, which is okay if you actually can rise to the occasion. And neither of them has risen to the occasion, with dreadful consequences for the country and for journalism, and I don’t think this story is over by any means.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor of the popular website, HuffingtonPost.com. We’re going to come back to her after break, and then we’re going to Jane Mayer, who has written a very important piece in The New Yorker magazine about torture, about murder at Abu Ghraib. Arianna Huffington, not only founder of her website, but ran for governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger. The race took place — election vote on Tuesday in California. He was defeated in all his ballot initiatives, and I want to ask her about the significance of that for California politics.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re finishing up with Arianna Huffington, who not only runs HuffingtonPost.com, but ran for governor against the current governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and on Tuesday there was major votes in California around a number of ballot initiatives. The four that Schwarzenegger sponsored went down. The significance of this?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, the significance is really how Schwarzenegger is now perceived in California. Finally, after the honeymoon of his victory in the recall race, the majority of Californians have seen that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not really in any way a leader for California and, in fact, has been a captive of the very special interests he claimed that he came to power to overcome. And what is for me the most encouraging and really inspiring part of last Tuesday is that he was defeated by ordinary Californians: Nurses, teachers, I mean, these remarkable nurses who stood up to him first, you know, when his popularity ratings were really high. I mean, that is the moment for leadership, and the leadership came from the grassroots. It did not really come from elected Democratic officials. It did not come from the power brokers of California. It came from the grassroots, who stood up and followed him around and demonstrated and used all the old-fashioned techniques to bring him down, and they did.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the four initiatives, it seemed like he was taking on a gamut of attacks on different parts of the population. Could you just quickly go over some of the initiatives that were defeated?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. Well, what is interesting is that the initiatives were not even any longer seen on their own merits. I mean, the redistricting initiative. I mean, there has to be some redistricting so that the districts are not the captives of incumbents, but nobody even discussed it like that. It was another Schwarzenegger initiative. And then there were other initiatives that had to do with teacher tenure, that had to do with whether union dues could be used for political purposes, but as I said, this was really a referendum on Schwarzenegger.

And what’s going to happen going forward, we don’t know, but what was very interesting was that he gave his so-called defeat speech before all the results were out, so he didn’t completely have to declare a defeat, and also that he immediately segued into saying that we now need to be bipartisan, which is a little bit like an abusive guy, you know, who first of all kind of beats you up and then says, 'Now, let's make up and move forward together again.’ And I hope that Democratic leaders in Sacramento will have more sense than that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Arianna Huffington, we want to thank you very much for being with us.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Her website: HuffingtonPost.com.

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