Judith Miller: The Liar’s Journalist

Judith Miller is one of many reasons I left mainstream journalism years ago. I forgot about her until Fox News decided to run this piece of filth about the BlackBerry outage and cyber terrorism.

If you want to see a true specimen of fear-based journalism, read that article. In it, she takes the recent BlackBerry outage, which was the result of tech failure and not terrorism, and connects it to cyber terrorism anyway, despite the absence of facts to support her thesis.

From her article:

An RIM spokesman has said that the outage was caused by what Security Week called “a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure,” and not by a deliberate disabling attack. But the outage highlights the threat that determined cyber-warriors could pose to the nation’s communications systems if they target them. For over a decade cyber-experts have urged the U.S. to upgrade critical infrastructure to protect vital dams, power plants, and communications systems from cyber-crime or cyber-attacks from rival countries. But the country remains complacent and highly vulnerable, as the BlackBerry outage shows.

Amazingly, she goes on to connect it to biological terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, two subjects she wrote about at length last decade as a reporter for The New York Times. She scared the shit out of a lot of people with those articles, including me. The slimy part isn’t that she scared people. It’s that she scared people with stories that turned out to be inaccurate or completely false.

As her Wikipedia profile notes, Miller was later involved in disclosing Valerie Plame’s identity as CIA personnel. She spent three months in jail for claiming reporter’s privilege and refusing to reveal her sources in the CIA leak.

She willingly engaged in the fear-based journalism after 9-11 that lead to a lot of heartache and loss later. Her stories were used by the Bush Administration to build the case for going to war in Iraq. We went in unprepared for the bloody insurgency that followed.

I should probably laugh at this kind of journalism when I see it and move on. But the fact of the matter is that this stuff used to leave me a crippled mess.

When you have an out-of-control case of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), you latch onto all the things you can’t control and worry about them nonstop. Nothing feeds that devil like the kind of crap Miller writes and Fox News delivers. I’ve written before about the anxiety and fear I used to have over current events. I would think about all the things going on in the world over and over again, until it left me physically ill. I personally wanted to set everything right and control the shape of events, which of course is delusional, dangerous thinking.

Right after 9-11 I realized the obsession had taken a much darker, deeper tone. This time, I had the Internet as well as the TV networks to fill me with horror. Everyone was filled with horror on 9-11, obviously, but while others were able to go about their business in a depressed haze, I froze. Two weeks after the event, I refused to get on a plane to go to a wedding in Arizona. Everyone was afraid to fly at that point, but I let my fear own me. It’s one of my big regrets.

Part of the problem was my inability to take my eyes off the news. To do so for a five-hour plane ride was unthinkable. To not know what was going on for five hours? Holy shit. If I don’t know about it, I can’t control it!

I really used to think like that.

Her reports about the potential for bio terror fed the beast. I wouldn’t mind at all had her reports been based on truth. When there is a real danger people need to know about, you have to report it. That’s when people need to hear the scary truth. But I do mind, because the fear she threw around was not based on truth.

I can’t blame her for how I reacted to the coverage. I had a crippling mental illness that was still years away from being diagnosed. I can’t blame anyone for that. It was my problem to work on.

But I worry about people who are at the stage of illness I once found myself in. They will read Miller’s BlackBerry article and react as I once did.

True, that’s their problem. But if you are the writer, you should care about how people will react.

Then again, if you’re willing to write lies, you’re not really going to care about that, are you?


2 thoughts on “Judith Miller: The Liar’s Journalist

  1. Pingback: Brand journalism: focus more on “journalism,” less on “brand” | Christa M. Miller

  2. Bill, good writers walk a fine line. If you are writing because you care about issues and community, you do want to inspire emotion, because emotion inspires action. (If this were not the case, there would be no place for narrative journalism.) The problems come in when your own agenda is driving your stories, either because you care so passionately that you can’t see the forest for the trees, or because you are so deeply insecure that you don’t care what you inspire as long as it’s — something.

    Have other thoughts about lying, manipulation and journalism which I’ll save for my own blog, I think, because this strikes a professional nerve. Thank you. 🙂

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