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CounterPunch Diary

When Divas Collide: Maureen Dowd v. Judy Miller

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Would you pay $49.95 to watch women wrestling in mud? I did this morning, and it was well worth the expense. I get the New York Times Online and until a couple of weeks ago all the features were free. Then, as some of you have no doubt discovered, the NYT’s columnists started to have only their opening sentences on free display. To get the full columns of Krugman, Rich, Dowd and the others you have to pony up $49.95 a year’s subscription to Times Select.

I held off until today when the Times nailed the sale with Dowd’s column titled, "Woman of Mass Destruction" and her ominous opening sentence, "I’ve always liked Judy Miller".

Miller has been the sport of a million stories and there was nothing much by way of startling revelations in what Dowd wrote, but in operatic terms it was as though Maria Callas had suddenly rushed onto the stage and slugged Elizabeth Schwartzkopf.

After that enticing lead, designed to make online readers fish out their credit cards, Dowd spent five paragraphs sketching Miller’s profile as a power-mad egomaniac, (demanding Dowd’s chair at a White House briefing) before drop kicking her in the face with the blunt accusations that she’s a liar and–a thought first expressed in this column the day Miller went behind bars–that "her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project".

Then, with Judy down on the canvas, Dowd came flying down from the corner post, with her knee on Judy’s throat:

Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same thing I’ve always covered – threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.

Moral: Don’t ever take Maureen Dowd’s chair at a White House briefing.

Dowd mentions an internal memo to the staff from the Times’ editor, Bill Keller in which–to use Dowd’s words–"Judy seemed to have ‘misled’ the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case."

What Keller actually wrote was the following:

"if I had known the details of Judy’s entanglement with Libby, I’d have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises."

"Entanglement" is a curiously suggestive word, given the notoriously rich and varied texture of Judy Miller’s sexual resumé whose imagined contours have been the sport of newsrooms and hotel bars around the world. Certainly Miller took it that way, writing in response, "As for your reference to my ‘entanglement’ with Mr. Libby, I had no personal, social, or other relationship with him except as a source." Welcome to The Times as Pay-Per-View Reality TV.

Keller’s sniveling "internal" memo throwing Miller over the side, which he obviously knew would be forwarded to Howard Kurtz ten seconds after he hit the SEND key, seems to me to be entirely disgusting. The Times nailed Miller’s colors to its mast many years ago. There are decades’ worth of her atrocious mendacities in its archives, and decades’ worth of accurate refutations of her news stories ignored by Times’ editors.

Miller’s game was the Times’ game. They were witting co-conspirators. When Miller co-wrote (with Stephen Engelberg and William Broad) Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, the Times was happy to print her stories in the paper designed to push the book up into Bestseller status, in a staggering conflict of interest that earned the paper plenty of money. This, remember, was when Miller was sent that mysterious envelope of white powder that turned out not to be anthrax spores, which gave the book yet another boost.

It’s way too late in the game for Times editors to start whining that Judy misled them. They printed her rubbish because they were disposed to believe it, and for Keller to turn on her now in an "internal" memo designed for public consumption is cowardly and despicable. The gentlemanly thing for Keller to do would to keep a stiff upper lip, let Dowd and the reporters toss Miller on their horns and, if circumstances warrant, fall upon his sword, accompanied in this act by the publisher, unless the Times’ shareholders shoot him first for presiding over the 53 per cent drop in profits this year.

I never cared much for the whole Plame scandal, mostly on the aesthetic grounds that outing Plame as a CIA agent seemed such a moronic way for the White House to try to discredit Joe Wilson, also because outing CIA agents is an act for which–for radicals at least–applause should be the default setting. But in that odd way that scandals acquire critical mass by dint of larger social and political discontent, the Plame scandal is severely wounding the Bush regime and the New York Times and we certainly applaud that.

And with the Times now publicly dismembering itself the scandal has at last become fun. Not as much fun as the Lewinsky scandal of course, but what scandal will ever match those magic years?

By way of a coda: My favorite among Judy’s amours has always been the British consular official in Tripoli whom Judy had once made the plaything of an idle hour, or of the need for some document or fragment of information. The British journalist David Blundy, later killed in Central America, was in the cellar of the British consulate in Tripoli during the US bombing raid in Reagan-time, designed to kill Qadaffi. Also present was Judy’s conquest, the consular official. The wretched man had never got over Judy and as the bombs crashed down and the building trembled on its foundations, he took ever heavier swigs from a bottle of Scotch and moaned in his broad Scottish accent, "She’s a terrr-ible, terrrr-ible woman, but I love her (CRASH) She’s a terrrr." (CRASH, etc)

Dershowitz v Cockburn

One of the pleasures of life is taunting Alan Dershowitz. He rises to the bait like a trout in May. Here’s the latest to-and-fro I’ve had with the nutty professor, published in the Nation last week.

First, the Dersh.

Cambridge, Mass.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN persists in lying about me. In his October 17 "Beat the Devil" column, "From Lynndie England to Shaquille O’Neal," Cockburn falsely claims that I have "clamored for torture." Cockburn knows full well that I "clamored" for just the opposite. As I wrote in my essay "Tortured Reasoning," which appeared in Sanford Levinson’s book on Torture, "I am against torture as a normative matter, and I would like to see its use minimized. I pose the issue as follows. If torture is, in fact, being used and/or would, in fact, be used in an actual ticking bomb terrorist case, would it be normatively better or worse to have such torture regulated by some kind of warrant, with accountability, recordkeeping, standards and limitations?"

What I called for would have prevented precisely the sorts of claims that England made in her defense. Referring directly to Abu Ghraib, I conclude that "if a warrant requirement of some kind had been in place, the low-ranking officers on the ground could not plausibly claim that they had been subtly (or secretly) authorized to do what they did, since the only acceptable form of authorization would be in writing. Nor could the high-ranking officials hide behind plausible deniability, since they would have been required to give the explicit authorization."

This is surely different from clamoring for torture. Cockburn’s false personal potshots cheapen The Nation’s discourse and diminish its credibility.

Alan Dershowitz

Cockburn replies:

As regards Dershowitz’s clamors for torture, lying is not necessary. The record suffices. Amid the post-9/11 debate about which bits of the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions to heave overboard, there issued from the Felix Frankfurter professor at Harvard Law School the widely publicized message that it’s okay to use torture, just so long as the torturers shoving a "sterilized needle"(the prof’s preferred instrument under the fingernails of their victims have some sort of warrant in their pockets. So, at that Dershowitz called for regulated torture, which, contrary to his claims here, sought to make the outrageous normative, subject to rules, procedures, record-keeping, and so forth.

Thus poisoning the well with this decorous prattle Dershowitz was worse, in my view, than those who bellowed coarsely, "They’re barbarians, we have to be too!" That latter idea bothers ordinary people, especially when they imagine their own sons and daughters thus launched into executive barbarism.

In fact, there was a "warrant requirement" of sorts at Abu Ghraib. It’s just that no one could remember what it was. The soldiers who’d been at Guantánamo and Afghanistan could not remember that, though they did not have to abide by Geneva Conventions, according to Bush’s February 7, 2002, directive and Gonzales’s legal opinion re prisoners taken in the "global war on terror," they did have to apply Geneva to Iraqi prisoners. The widespread existence of this "confusion" is stated plainly in the Fay Report. Beyond that, Donald Rumsfeld drew up a list of approved procedures for interrogation at Gitmo on December 2, 2002. Six weeks later he rescinded those orders, allowing some of the procedures, all of which would be considered cruel and degrading treatment-torture-if you were on the receiving end, but not others. According to the Army’s own investigations, soldiers aware of the first list (or warrant) were not always aware that it was later rescinded.

When those soldiers went to Iraq, they carried their "confusion" with them. In any event on September 14, 2003-following a visit to Abu Ghraib by Gen. Geoffrey Miller and a team from Gitmo there to evaluate the military’s "ability to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence" and make recommendations for same-Gen. Sanchez, then head of ground forces in Iraq, signed a policy outlining interrogation techniques that was very close to Rumsfeld’s original list. Some of the techniques required specific approval from Sanchez before they could be used (another version of a warrant), and such requests were either made or they weren’t (because of more confusion) but the existence of those procedures, limitations and record-keeping did not prevent torture. It merely normalized it.

At the time of the Abu-Ghraib pictures, there were anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 prisoners there. All over Iraq there were other detainees. Abuse has been reported everywhere, most recently in the allegations by Capt. Ian Fishback to Human Rights Watch and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Everywhere there were chaos, mortar attacks, fear, suspicion and soldiers short-handed, ill-equipped or bloody-minded, sometimes all of the above. The notion of applying judicious consideration re whom and how to torture under such conditions would be absurd if it were not already immoral and grotesque. Dershowitz’s faith that higher-ups would actually put their names to such orders-rather than making their intentions clear in other ways-would, to plagiarize a Russian of vigorous views , be touching in a child but is repulsive in a person of mature years.

The Red Cross

On Oct 20, 2005, at 5:47 PM, Federica Mengotti wrote:

Dear Editors

As a trustful reader of your articles I was surprise to read in "The Scandalous History of the Red Cross" by Joe Allen that the Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton. As far as I’m concerned the founder of the Red Cross, later the International Committee of the Red Cross, was the Swiss Jean Henry Dunant.

And in this case I would like to have either an explanation or a correction.

Thank you, Federica Mengotti

Dear Federica,

You’re right of course. Dunant founded the International Red Cross Committee in 1863, prelude to the first Geneva Convention of 1864, which the Red Cross committees were constituted to supervise. . Allen should have made it clear that Clara Barton founded the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881, incorporated and nationalized in 1905 as the American Association of the Red Cross. The American Red Cross has always been good at raising money. When Wilson took the US into the war in 1917 the Red Cross War Council under H.P. Davison raised a hundred million dollars in a week, went from 500,000 members to 16 million. Total money raised in 1917-18 in US was $400,000,000.

Best,

ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Merle Haggard and That Okie from Muskogee

Dear Chet Flippo,

I enjoyed your article about Merle Haggard in CounterPunch, but the bit about "Okie from Muskogee" needs elaboration. The effect you describe was certainly very real, but the fact is that when Merle wrote the song it was as a joke, a satire. He and his crew were all smoking weed and partying hardy in those days, and the song was just a lark and they never thought anyone would take the song as anything but sarcasm. Merle was somewhat horrified when the rednecks adopted the song as their anthem.

I personally would never even think about believing this but the fact is the story comes from Merle’s own mouth. I heard him tell the story during an interview which I believe I heard on the radio. Sorry I don’t have the details, but I’m thinking this aired on NPR maybe, and definitely within the last 2 or 3 years.

As for "Fighting Side of Me" , well maybe he meant that one! I don’t know. Anyway I thought this might be of interest to you.

Paul Grégoire
Classroom and Event Technology Specialist
Harvard Law School Media Services
1563 Mass Ave.
Pound Hall 205
Cambridge MA 02138

The Legacy of Malthus

From: brian doherty <bdoherty311@yahoo.com>
Date: October 10, 2005 11:01:46 AM PDT
To: counterpunch@counterpunch.org
Subject: Bennett and Crime

Unless you are now prepared to label also Martin Luther King a racist, I would suggest, if not plead, that you stop implying or suggesting that people who support population density control are racists or neomalthusians. Martin Luther King made a speech to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in which he called overpopulation one of the greatest tragedies facing humankind. You can find this speech on the net.

I was under the impression that "the Left" was in favor of workers´ rights, democracy, social justice, and a clean environment. It is a dirty shame and a tragedy that we cannot have worker´s rights, democracy, social justice, and a clean environment under conditions of overpopulation, conditions that now prevail.

Worker´s rights have been declining in the United States, and elsewhere, for the thirty years that I have been watching. If this decline were only the result of the vicious cunning of the ruling class, if might be more tractable, but the vicious cunning of the ruling class is not the only cause.

The findings of the Rockefeller Commission were never heeded by the government, and its recommendations were never carried out at all. If these findings and recommendations had been acted upon, it is quite likely that we would have fewer environmental problems and more economic justice. The right just does not give a damn about overpopulation (in fact, they may desire it, as it helps to promote fascism), but I thought that the Left was different. Silly me.

Brian Doherty

Yes Brian, I think you are a bit silly to ally yourself with any Rockefeller Commission. Since when was anything with the Rockefeller name attached to it seriously working for economic justice? And yes, mostly those who support "population density control" are racists or neomalthusians.

Best, Alex C

La Peste

Dear Alex,

You’ve written many fine columns about big pharma and "depressive disorders". Do you think the pharmaceutical companies are pushing (or else helping push) the whole bird flu alarm? As best I can tell, unless you commune a great deal with Asian chickens, you don’t have much to worry about.

All the best,

ericsipos@verizon.net

My feeling exactly. A vaccine that may not work against a threat that does not as yet exist.

Best Alex C