“So, so, so... euuuggh boy.” These were the first words Jon Stewart said to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Wednesday night Daily Show guest, and though they do not complete a sentence, within them there is so much history, resignation, and blame. Then, he came right out with it: “My feeling has always been... is that I believe that you helped the administration take us to the most devastating mistake in foreign policy that we’ve made in 100 years,” he said. “But you seem lovely!”
A brief reminder, in case you’ve spent the last decade trying to scrub the infuriatingly hapless and often illegal deeds of the Bush Administration from your soul: in 2003, Judith Miller filed a now-notorious report in the Times about the supposed weapons of mass destruction uncovered in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. This WMD narrative was used to sell the American public on invading Iraq as a consequence of 9/11, even though zero link between Iraq and 9/11 was ever found. Later, it was revealed that WMDs in Iraq did not exist, and Miller’s report simply toed the party line of the Bush Administration, which was trying to justify a way to invade the country, as Stewart cites in this interview: “You had to shift, with energy, the focus on Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, to Iraq. That took effort. Would you agree?” Stewart, stunting.
Miller’s wormy response, a bald attempt to shift blame from her own reporting: “It took persuading, and they persuaded a lot of Democrats! Hillary Clinton, John Kerry... the intelligence was what it was.”
“The intelligence wasn’t what it was. And not everybody got it wrong.” Here Miller attempts to backtrack and spread around the blame for the WMD story—USA Today had an article! Hans Blix! Bill Clinton! Yo mama!
As CJR coined it, the book Miller is promoting—The Story: A Reporter’s Journey a title that is overly monastic and misleadingly broad—is part of a “rehab tour,” and it is apparently far from noble. Writes her former Times colleague, Neil Lewis:
In my 24 years at The Times I frequently worked with Miller, often unhappily, as I will explain. Her efforts at recasting events have thus not been a surprise to me.
She has made sporadic efforts before to defend her reporting. But now she’s employing an important element in the modern method of obfuscation and confusion. Waiting several years after the events, she tries to take advantage of fading memories, especially involving detailed and complicated matters.
Time and complexity are the best friends of a determined distorter of events.
And, more incensing than that:
Miller also mixes in some confusion as to what critics have charged her with. In the Journal piece, she begins jocularly by saying she is finally “admitting” her reporting caused the war in Iraq.
“I took America to war in Iraq. It was all me,” she wrote, inviting readers to laugh along with her at such a ludicrous notion.
Jon Stewart—one of our country’s primary purveyors of laughing at the ludicrous, particularly when it relates to politics—thinks nothing is funny about it. As Raw Story puts it, “What stands out is that... he sees the big picture of lives lost and a country that was devastated by warmongers, liars, and sociopaths.”
Judith Miller has a right to defend herself. I wish that the WMD narrative did not fall on the shoulders of an important, accomplished woman journalist. But the devastating and untenable results—and all the women and children killed in Iraq as a direct result of this poor reporting—are too important to erase or mislead, and the backpedaling is not acceptable. When Stewart describes that weapons expert David Albright tried alert her to the fact that the WMD story was fishy, Miller literally says, “I think the story got cut for space.”
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