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August 13, 2004



Not to mention that, um, this would never have been an issue if the US didn't insist on the sanctions in the first place ... oil for food saved thousands of lives, no doubt. And at the end of the day ... no wmd.

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark: Just a technicality (you seem to think), but Miller is the second author of the article. The lead author is one Susan Sachs. If an article is signed "Susan Sachs and Judith Miller," one presumes there is a reason. And what do you think that reason is?

the aardvark

I think that this is an excellent point.


I think Miller and Chalabi are having an affair.

as the worm turns...

the aardvark

Well, that would be their business and none of mine. I only care when it affects foreign policy and stuff...

Oh, and Martin - even if Susan Sachs shared the byline, the article was still pretty lame. Miller has a track record on Chalabi related bad journalism which I think stands the test of time. Still... on reflection, I don't like this post. Too mean. I should stay away from personal attacks on people like Miller.. it's not nice. Let that be my Saturday resolution, be nicer.

And Praktike is right, to a point. I've written about this on the blog before, but... Oil for food did a tremendous amount of good and made a big difference in the lives of Iraqis, no matter how much corruption there was - and several of the UN officials quoted in the article say as much. On the other hand, OFF - like the sanctions in general - did help to entrench Saddam's regime and strengthen his state against society. Always a very imperfect solution to the sanctions problem... I get really annoyed that the "UNSCAM" crowd trivializes the whole thing by only trying to score political points against their enemies.

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark: I'm glad you regret this posting, but you regret it for the wrong reason. True, it is mean, but that isn't its main flaw. The main flaw is its premise: that this article is the work of Judith Miller, and her appearance on this beat indicates that the Times has not learned its lesson. To make that argument, you had to suppress the fact--perfectly known to you--that the lead author of the article is not Judith Miller, but Susan Sachs.

Readers of the Times will know that the oil-for-food beat has belonged to Susan Sachs from the beginning. The first big Times piece on the subject, back in February, was written solely by her:


In May, she did a follow-up, with Miller, on the tussle over who should run the investigation:


It is significant that in that piece, and the one you cite, Sachs precedes Miller in the story's attribution. At the Times, the oil-for-food story has belonged to Sachs, with Miller in a supporting role. As you are not in a position to say where, in this story, that support came into play, the entire posting has no legs.

By all means, be mean, when it's justified. But don't conceal the most salient fact just because it doesn't serve your purpose--especially when one of your pastimes is hectoring the media for doing just that.

the aardvark

Martin - actually, I didn't know the history of oil for food reporting at the Times. It's interesting, I suppose. But I honestly didn't know it - not something I was trying to conceal, although I wish I were that clever!

No, my objection was more on principle: after Miller's Iraq reporting, the Times should have treated her as they did Jayson Blair, only more so. They didn't, and instead continue to publish her Iraq-related reporting. I don't think that the fact that Sachs was the lead author changes that.

But my curiosity has been aroused: in your opinion, why was Miller brought in if it was a Sachs story? What was her contribution supposed to be?

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark: I really don't know the answer. Newsrooms are complex places, and I would assume that the newsroom at the Times is at least as complex as the faculty dynamics at your
university. Guessing from the outside is risky business. Whenever a press article (or academic study) is signed by two or more people, it leaves you wondering who contributed what.

I am not surprised the Times still relies on Miller for back-up on an Iraq story, because I do not think her case is at all comparable to that of the wanton fabricator Jayson Blair. It reminds me more of the cases of dozens of academics who have gotten things wrong, usually because of their biases, yet they continue to teach and write and appear as media pundits. (You know the names.) Nobody demands that their deans fire or suspend them--that would violate academic freedom. If errors born of bias were always to have consequences, universities would be dismissing professors every day, and our own field would be entirely depopulated.

I find that academics have much too little respect for press freedom, and what it really entails: the right of a journalist to get some things egregiously wrong during a long career (in Pulitzer-Prize-winner Miller's case, a distinguished one), and still go on. If they didn't have that right, reading the Times would be a boring exercise indeed.

the aardvark

Martin: That's not what I thought you were going to say... you've spent the last half a decade demanding that academics be held accountable, why go soft on journalists?

And I think I'll let my rather obsessive blogging on the subject of press freedom (in favor) speak for itself.

I think that Miller's track record on Iraq is sufficiently bad that this isn't really a press freedom question.. it's a matter of editorial judgement and good sense.

Martin Kramer

Well, you've missed the point of my message this last half-decade. It's not been that academics should be held accountable (except when they're spending federal dollars, where it is the law). It's that their ideas should be subject to the same critical scrutiny as those of journalists, politicians, and others who operate in the public domain.

To criticize is not to silence, however, and your post goes one step beyond: you do not just criticize the substance of the piece, but the publisher's decision to allow Miller to report at all. Your posting reminds me of those people who used to write to Columbia University, insisting that Edward Said be fired. I was a keen critic of Edward Said on substance, but I always thought the people who wrote to Columbia asking that he be fired were batty (and didn't understand the immunities of tenure, which I enjoy and which I've never questioned). Or it would be like devoting a posting to Oxford University Press for repeatedly publishing John Esposito. Universities and publishers develop their loyalties too, over long years of partnership, and they don't shut people down just like that.

I actually do have a soft spot for journalists, for this reason: they do not have the equivalent of academic tenure. They can be fired, unlike you (if you're tenured). Your tenure gives you the privilege of being wrong again and again and again. It doesn't matter: your university will still stand by you. If you want bold reporting, and not just wire service reports, journalists need leeway. So I have no problem with the Times standing by Miller, or the Independent standing by Robert Fisk. Ruthlessly criticize their every word. But don't demand that they be silenced.

Since we are now slightly off topic, I wonder what you think about this, which also relates to Miller, anonymous sources, etc.

"More Trouble for Judith Miller and 'New York Times': Subpoena in Plame/Novak Probe"

the aardvark

"[Joseph] Massad's views are not all that unusual in Middle Eastern studies, and he has every right to express them on Columbia's Low Plaza, in public lectures, and in print. But should someone who is busy propagandizing against the existence of Israel be employed by Columbia to teach the introductory course on the Arab-Israeli conflict?" - Martin Kramer, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2002

Martin: I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of what you're saying in the previous post. Everyone should be criticized, and have the right to their opinion, shouldn't be silenced, and so forth. Your attacks on Joseph Massad suggest that you're practice doesn't quite match the preaching, but hey... we're all human.

But your last post does raise some fascinating points that I'd be curious to hear you elaborate. I really am surprised to hear you say that holding academics accountable was not your point, since this seems to eviscerate your "Ivory Towers" position. To claim that Middle East Studies academics aren't "criticized" in public doesn't pass the laugh test. What made your book important, and generated such debate, was the call to move beyond partisan criticism and hold the field accountable - to link funding to performance, and to push academics to address issues of national security concern in a pragmatic and useful way. That was far more interesting, controversial, and useful than the typical MESA bashing, which is why it generated such argument and debate. I'm sure you recall better than I do, but I seem to remember MESA then-President Lisa Anderson roughly agreeing with you on those latter points. So are you backing down on that core point, restricting it only to cases of federal funding, or rejecting this interpretation of your original book altogether?

Another interesting point in this last post is where I see you ending up: equating Miller with MESA (to state it crudely). As I read you, Middle East Studies professors and Judith Miller have each made egregious mistakes, and all should be criticized for them - but since the academics are protected by tenure and Miller isn't, we should be more lenient towards her and other journalists since they take greater risks. Fair enough - although the sheer fact that Miller continues to be writing about Iraq despite her performance suggests that for "star" journalists the difference between the two fields isn't as great as you imply. But if you're going to criticize academics for being wrong, as you have for so many years, why not criticize her in the same way and for the same reasons?

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark: Interesting points indeed. I don't want to turn this into a discussion of academe (no one will know to look for it here, of all places), but here's a go.

You will notice I defended Massad's right to speak out on his campus (others challenged that). I questioned (it is followed by a question mark) the wisdom of having him teach in an area of his bias, as demonstrated by student testimonials. (After all, I wasn't there.) He is not tenured faculty, and he's not to Columbia University as Judith Miller is to the Times. Certain privileges accrue to academics only with tenure. One is the freedom to teach whatever subject you please. I'll continue to try to tilt tenure decisions and appointments, because after they are done, it's just second-guessing.

Ivory Towers can be read in more than one way, and I am reluctant to give an "authorized" interpretation of it. It operates at several levels, as intellectual critique, as a study in the sociology of knowledge, and as a practical plan. It's the combination (and timing) that made for its impact. But on accountability, the question is always this: accountable to whom? Academics cannot be held accountable like generals and officials, and I never saw the problem as an absence of accountability. I saw it as a shirking of responsibility, under a host of pretexts. There is a difference between accountability and responsibility. One is legal, the other is moral.

Even in the case of federal funding (e.g., Title VI), I have never thought that it is the role of government to make universities accountable for what they teach or who they hire. My notion of accountability narrowly applies to those activities directly funded by government, and which are done on a contractual basis. I have tried to make that clear again and again in the HR3077 debate, although most academics still don't get it.

As for why I don't write criticisms of journalists, including Miller, the reason is obvious. I am not a journalist myself. Just as no journalist can possibly get deep inside academe, no academic can get deep inside journalism. The force of my critique was that it came from the inside. Judith Miller (whom I know) is getting a full and varied treatment from within the profession (by people I know, such as Franklin Foer). I see no reason to kibbitz. What we academics lack is something like this kind of internal critique, because while journalism is structured like a competitive market, much of academe is structured like a medieval guild. Where is our equivalent of the Columbia Journalism Review? You write: "To claim that Middle East Studies academics aren't 'criticized' in public doesn't pass the laugh test." The public criticism has come in waves, and prior to 9/11, there hadn't been much for a very long time. The real question is why Middle Eastern studies cannot generate a self-critique, even after 9/11. In this respect, there's a lot to be learned from the world of journalism.

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark: One more point. You suggest that there may not be much difference in the status of "star" journalists and tenured professors, given that Miller is still on the beat. But notice that Miller hasn't responded to critics. She is subject to the corporation, whose lawyers decide if, when, and how she should respond. Any professor under a similar assault would have been out swinging by now, and that is a very great difference indeed.


Ms. Miller finds the truth to be toxic.

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