Judging character

I know I implied I would not link TimesSelect, but this gem from Paul Krugman deserves special mention.

This article is a great introspective on limitations of our ability to judge character (“thin-slicing” in Blink-speak). It makes a great case on how our judgement of character can easily be manipulated by a personal impression created under the right frame. If you aren’t interested in politics, you should read that article for the implications it has on business relationships and interviews and stop reading this one.

Here is what I want to talk about:

Let’s be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration’s proxies. (Yes, I’m speaking in part from experience.)

That is an amazing quote.

Why? well you have to understand that the New York Times has put a muzzle on their Op-Ed pages1 with regards to the Judith Miller story.

The Times today has published their investigative report of the Judith Miller Story. I am appalled by the whitewash of this article as it requires entirely too much reading between the lines.

The Occam’s Razor reading of events: It started with a leak. As part of a concerted campaign to quell objection to the war, the Vice President’s Chief-of-Staff, Scooter Libby, leaked a undercover CIA agent’s name to Judith Miller, the administration’s mouthpiece-in-the-guise-of-reporter at the New York Times who didn’t write an article about it because she was scooped by Robert Novak. She refused to testify before the Grand Jury. The Times brass played puppet to Miller by allowing her to wrap herself in the First Amendment instead of doing what was in the interest of the paper or their readership. When faced with the reality that she was a total goofball who was going to rot in jail for life for trying to play a PR game with a Grand Jury investigation, she caved. She continues to drag the integrity of the Gray Lady through the mud by committing obvious perjury.

Here are some questions:

  1. How can a senior person outing an underling be considered a whistle-blower? (Scooter Libby outing Valerie Plame.)
  2. When does the First Amendment trump the Truth?
  3. How does changing the reference to the leaker to deliberately mislead your readers constitute journalist integrity worth protecting? (Reporting the VP Chief-of-Staff of the White House as “a former Hill staffer.)
  4. What sort of journalist would risk putting notes from one source in her notes from another source? (She put “Valerie Flame” in her notes of Scooter Libby but claims that it was said by another.) The potential for making a libelous misquote should be insane.
  5. For that matter, why would you go to jail for a source you “can’t recall”?
  6. If you were going to go to federal prison based on an subjective, non-legal interpretation of a waiver, wouldn’t you do your damnest to get that cleared up?
  7. How can you lie to your boss, lie about your boss, refuse to cooperate with your company and not get fired? (She lied to her bureau chief that she was not one of the six Washington journalists who were leaked the identity of Valerie Plame. She claimed she recommended a story to her editor that was turned down when you didn’t. Her book deal trips the NYT article; Other papers scoop the NYT because of her foot dragging on the interview.)
  8. What sort of idiot goes through this with no regrets? (“Asked in the interview whether he had any regrets about the editorials, given the outcome of the case, Mr. Sulzberger said no.”)
  9. Final question: I thought the Jayson Blair thing was all about a reporter run amok without oversight—has the Times learned nothing? What they learned was it is okay for someone to be “Miss Run Amok” long as they are a right winger. Choice quote from Arther Sulzberger Jr, the publisher of the New York Times: “This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk.” So is integrity of your paper and therefore your business, you idiot.

This brings us back to the Krugman quote at the top of this entry. Read it again with the knowledge of the muzzle put on the Op-Ed column by Sulzberger.

Paul, you sly guy.

1 After Editor and Publisher asked the eight regular contributors to the New York Times Op-Ed why they are strangely silent about Miller, four replied. They gave pathetic replies including this gem from John Tierney: “I haven’t had a great original thought on this.” (Dude, like that has ever stopped you before.) Frank Rich and John Tierney, have written in support of the Times position; Tom Friedman is still rationalizing how he could have spoken out in favor of the war; Nicholas Kristof claimed that Miller was released before he could write about it. Dowd, Brooks, Krugman and Herbert didn’t respond. If that isn’t indications of an implicit muzzle put in place by higher ups, I don’t know what is.

6 thoughts on “Judging character

  1. The public editor speaks about Judy Miller in a way that the investigative report does not. He touches on a lot of points I brought up that you had to do a close reading of the article to even find. Great job.

    The public editor is the representative of the readers on the Times.

    With the impending release of this editorial, the publisher finally crys “Uncle” and unleashes the attack dogs: Maureen Dowd slams into Judy Miller. So we have the following:

    Tom Friedman: “We are truly home alone. We can write whatever we want.”

    Frank Rich: “”We are independent operators who work outside the newsroom.”

    John Tierney: “I haven’t had a great original thought on this.”

    Nicholas Kristof: “”I didn’t just want to sit and suck my thumb and write, columns should be about presenting new information.””

    Obviously MoDo didn’t agree with you. Let’s face it, you were either muzzled or they would only take your column if it toed the party line. That’s why the publisher had to go to William Safire and Bob Dole to get the pro-Miller fluff pieces he needed.

  2. NYU Journalism professor, Jay Rosen, writes an excellent summary of the New York Times’s response to the Judy Miller incident.

    Methinks they are worried about Miller doing an Ann Coulter and crying to Fox News about being persecuted. Good riddance, I say. Bad reporting is bad reporting no matter how you try to spin it, send her to the commentators and pundits where she belongs. There is should be no day when a Vice President’s chief-of-staff and advisor to the President of the United States can hide behind a cloak of secrecy to commit treasonous acts of libel for political gain, should be equated with a whistle-blowing source worthy of protecting. At the end of the day, he was not doing this to indict his superiors of wrongdoing, but to protect them from being held accountable for it. That makes all the difference.

  3. Marty Kaplan explains the differences between a real leak and a propaganda campaign which explains, very simply the problems people have with how easily manipulated “the media” has become.

    When journalism is written to benefit the journalist, instead of the reader, you can tell the difference between a leak and a piss. And those little differences become the big ones when judging character.

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