The latest stop on the Judith Miller apologia tour came Wednesday night—a sit-down interview with one of her most vocal critics, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart.
Miller, of course, is the disgraced New York Times journalist who relied on faulty information from compromised sources in producing several stories linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to weapons of mass destruction, thus helping propel the U.S. toward the Iraq War. Some, including Valerie Plame, say Miller is, with a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed and her new memoir, The Story: A Reporter’s Journey, attempting to both change the narrative, and rewrite history. Stewart thinks so, too.
“I believe that you helped the administration take us to, like, the most devastating mistake in foreign policy that we’ve made in, like, 100 years… but you seem lovely,” Stewart told Miller, kicking off a combative and entertaining verbal sparring match.
The embattled reporter repeated her typical lines of defense—that the intelligence sources she used were not Dick Cheney or George Bush and “had really never been wrong before,” and that they’d steered her right “on al Qaeda before 9/11” and on a story about the Soviet Union hiding a “huge cache of biological weapons.” She even, on two occasions, passed some of the blame for the Iraq War narrative onto Bill and Hillary Clinton, saying, “It was Bill Clinton who was worried about Iraq. Long before George Bush bombed Iraq, Bill Clinton did—1998-2000 missions for WMD. What I think changed was that, after 9/11, the risk that America was willing to tolerate just plummeted,” Miller said, also adding that Bush administration officials had “persuaded a lot of Democrats—Hillary Clinton.”
“Well, it turns out idiocy is bipartisan,” cracked Stewart.
Stewart did not let Miller off easy, claiming that Miller partook in a “concerted effort” to lead us into a war with Iraq.
“I think it was a concerted effort to take us into war in Iraq. You had to shift, with energy, the focus of America from Afghanistan and al Qaeda to Iraq. That took effort,” Stewart said. “Somebody pointed the light at Iraq, and that somebody is the White House, and the Defense Department, and Rumsfeld. He said right after 9/11, ‘Find me a pretext to go to war with Iraq.’ That’s from the 9/11 papers and the study.”
Much of the focus of their on-air tussle was Miller’s front-page Times story from September 8, 2002, headlined, “U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts.” In it, Miller and her Times colleague Michael R. Gordon cited anonymous officials from the Bush administration who believed that Iraq had “stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.”
The notorious article was used as a political tool by Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and others, all of whom used it as further evidence that Saddam was America’s most imminent threat, and it fueled a very heated exchange between Stewart and Miller on The Daily Show:
MILLER: “Jon, were we not supposed to report what it was that had the intelligence community so nervous about Saddam?” STEWART: “No. You should have reported it, though, in the context of this administration was very clearly pushing a narrative, and by losing sight of that context, by not reporting—”MILLER: “I think we did.”STEWART: “I wholeheartedly disagree with you.”MILLER: “That’s what makes journalism.” STEWART: “It’s actually not what makes journalism...”
After several back-and-forths between the satirist and a deflecting Miller, Stewart closed the interview on a somber note.
“We’re obviously never going to see eye-to-eye on it,” he said. “I appreciate you coming on the program. These discussions always make me incredibly sad because they point to institutional failure at the highest levels and no one will take responsibility for it, and they pass the buck to every individual but themselves. It’s sad.”