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Friday, September 30, 2005

More questions than answers

Last night The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news that New York Times reporter Judith Miller was released from prison, claiming she had been personally released from protecting the confidentiality of her source, one I. Lewis Libby.

There was some journalism brouhaha about the fact that the Inquirer broke the story. But the LA Times notes that Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, is from Philadelphia. Coincidence?

Anyway, it seems a guy nicknamed Scooter, and also Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, claims to have released Miller from protecting him more than a year ago.

And Tate and Libby seemed genuinely surprised that it was on Scooter’s behalf that Miller was in jail. So much for good communication skills. If that's true then the obvious question, asked by the Inquirer, is why was Miller in jail for 12 weeks?

Perhaps today’s testimony will reveal the answer.

News of the investigation reaching a conclusion can’t be welcome in the White House. The Wall Street Journal reported:

Regardless of the details of Ms. Miller's testimony, the resurfacing of the investigation comes at a bad time for the Bush administration, as it struggles to get its agenda back on track after a series of Republican missteps, including the indictment Wednesday of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

Today’s Washington Post infers that Miller was looking for a way out of jail after catching wind that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had the authority to extend her prison time beyond the federal grand jury’s end date of Oct. 28.

So what exactly is he expecting from her testimony? It begs the question why does a reporter who never wrote a story hold in her hand the testimony that marks the end of this two-year investigation?

Miller's role had been one of the great mysteries in the leak probe. It is unclear why she emerged as a central figure in the probe despite not writing a story about the case.

Arianna Huffington asks a lot of questions of The New York Times today, including:

Had a Plame/Wilson story been assigned to Miller or not?

What, if anything, did she say about the story to anyone at the paper at the time… and what did they say back?

Why did the Times hold back the story about Miller’s release and let multiple other news sources scoop them? Were they trying to miss the evening news cycle and avoid the overnight thrashing their spin has rightly received?

So, as the image of Judy as a principled, conscience-driven defender of the First Amendment gives way to the image of Judy wearing her "new" waiver as a fig leaf allowing her to get out and sing, the big question remains: What is she hiding?

According to the AP neither Fitzgerald nor his spokesman Randall Samborn are commenting. For now, we’re playing the waiting game.

My prediction is that this will all be for nothing. No one will lose his or her job. No one will be held accountable. Bush has already backpedaled on his insistence that he would fire anyone who leaked the name of former CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

As some reports and legal experts have said, proving someone intentionally disclosed the identity of an undercover agent is incredibly difficult. So that begs the question: What is all this nonsense really about?

Smart AND funny
I’m addicted to The Daily Show, just ask my kids. “Mom, your show is on,” they tell me when it airs in the early evening. That opening segment of Jon Stewart’s is just some of the smartest stuff being written today for television. And Steven Colbert’s “This Week in God” is a brilliantly crafted parody.

So now it seems Stewart has taken his caustic wit to the magazine industry, when he addressed 1,000-plus members of the Magazine Publishers Association last night.

Time’s controversial decision to turn over documents in a federal investigation was on Stewart’s chopping block as well. “Time magazine has been a tradition in America," Stewart said to Kelly. "(Yet) one federal prosecutor asks for some documents, everyone pulls their underwear over their heads and you turn them over. And not only that—Newsweek breaks the story. Jim, what the f**k?”

"The Thought Stream"
I hate the name blogosphere, but I love how Tim Porter describes it:

When I think of the blogosphere, I recall the colorful world maps that hung on the wall of my high school geography classroom. On them, curved arrows and various shapes and sizes depicted the swirling rivers of ocean and air currents that move endlessly, seamlessly around the globe. The Jet Stream, the Gulf Stream, the Alaska Current. The blogosphere is the same — The Thought Stream — moving across geography, beyond nationality, node by node from one individual to another, tying people together in a swirling current of ideas, debate and interaction.

I found this by way of Jay Rosen’s Press Think, which contains an interesting rehash of this week’s Blogger and Big Media Fest. Sadly, on both sides of the roundtable were the usual suspects (so much for tapping fresh voices). And much of the discussion revolved around the same positioning against bloggers:

• What’s the revenue model for blogging/Internet/citizen journalism?
My answer: Does it really matter? They are here and a part of the public discourse whether or not they make money.

• They’re nothing but a bunch of crazy curmudgeon’s in their PJs.
Okay, so I’m in my PJs. But that’s unusual for me. It’s Friday, I have no appointments and I’ve been writing like a fiend since 6 a.m. The shower and street clothes will come after my noon workout. And that’s a practice I do whether I’m writing for print or online.

• Credibility is a problem because they play loosey-goosey with the facts.
Media people want to believe in the figure of the “who cares if its true?” blogger, the one who will run anything, who has no editorial standards, who can be duped or dupes others. The image still tends to dominate their imagination, perhaps because it puts the most distance between what bloggers do and what they do.

But there were some goodies found in the discussion as well, according to Rosen:

Still, it was agreed: Big Media does not know how to innovate. What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never. Do these firms attract designers and geeks who are gifted with technology? They don’t, because they don’t do anything challenging enough. They don’t innovate, or pay well. So they can’t compete.

• Big Media can’t dismiss bloggers because they are better tuned to “what’s bubbling up” than MSM. If you’re in doubt, then spend some time at Brewed Fresh Daily or Democracy Guy.

• And then there’s the potential changing thought, hmmmm:

Terry Heaton
writes: “Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, noted three areas where his thinking has been changed.” 1.) Heyward talked of a breakdown in newsroom formulas influenced by bloggers and the power of their conversation. 2.) The illusion of omniscience is hurting news. “That’s the way it is” journalism isn’t credible anymore. 3.) Therefore point-of-view has started to become more acceptable because it seems more inevitable. This was probably the most significant surprise of the meeting: an actual shift in press think. At the top, no less.

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