Sunday, October 16, 2005

Howard Kurtz Misrepresents Judith Miller's Plame Testimony

In a widely syndicated article for the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz has once again written on the Valerie Plame “outing” investigation. Today’s article (the one I read in the Honolulu Advertiser, which is not available on-line, is similar but not identical to that published by the Post) purports to be a summary review of New York Times writer Judith Miller’s story, published yesterday, concerning her recent grand jury testimony. Miller’s testimony was limited to matters concerning information she received from Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Kurtz, unfortunately, appears to have misrepresented Miller’s story on at least two important points and implied potential administration misbehavior where none was really possible.

Error #1: Kurtz states, “During two of the 2003 conversations with I. Lewis “Scoote” Libby, Miller said, she wrote versions of Plame’s name in her notebook, although she believes the name came from another confidential source she said she cannot recall.”

The error here is that Miller did not say that she wrote versions of Plame’s name in her notebook during conversations with Libby. She did write them in her notebook, but did not specify that she wrote them during her conversations with Libby. A moot point? Perhaps. But Kurtz’ version gives Miller’s conversations with Libby a potentially sinister spin that they do not, in fact, deserve.

Error #2: Kurtz states, “Miller said she initially refused to testify about her discussions with Libby because she believed he was signaling her that she should not cooperate in the CIA leak investigation unless her account would clear him.”

The error here is, first of all, what Miller “believed” Libby was “signaling” her is of no import whatsoever. She could “believe” that Libby was a werewolf, but, without tangible evidence, her believing something does not make it so. Secondly, the only possible evidence that might be interpreted as a “signal” from Libby was a letter that Miller received from him while already in jail for having refused to testify.

False Implication #1: Kurtz writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “is investigating other crimes, such as whether there was a conspiracy in the administration to discredit Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV.”

The problem here is that the Senate’s Investigative Committee on this matter already has discredited Wilson; a conclusion that was unanimously affirmed by both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee. How, then, can it be a crime for the administration to strategize how to “discredit” someone who had already discredited himself by telling lies and half-truths?

Kurtz is a good writer and it could be argued that his “facts” are fairly correct. But sometimes the way the facts are packaged and selectively chosen can lead a reader to a conclusion that is as every bit wrong as if the story itself had been a lie.

As with any media summary, it is always good to have read the original source of the story yourself.