I used to respect and admire Judith Miller, the NY Times reporter who spent 85 days in jail to protect her source, a White House official who outed an undercover CIA operative.
As a long time subscriber to the New York Times, I was familiar with her work long before she appeared on every news channel shortly after 9/11 as a terrorism expert. She seemed to know her stuff, but the most important thing to me was, she was a woman. In a sea of talking suits, experts pulled in from the cold to both reassure and terrify us, she was the only one who wore makeup and a trim bob.
But as talk of 9/11 and anthrax turned to talk of invading Iraq, her reporting became questionable, at times improbable. It just didn't jive with what I was reading elsewhere, in the pages of the Times and in the foreign press. I knew who Chalabi was, long before he became a familiar face in Iraq's provisional government, and in my world escaped embezzlers don't make reliable sources. (It had been made clear, in some source I'd read, that Chalabi and his group of exiled Iraqis were the main source for WMD claims.) I wondered how Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had overcome their religious differences in order to collaborate, yet Judy and her colleagues never asked this question in their columns on uranium tubes and meetings in Prague.
My role model, instead of jabbing her sharp elbows into the bloated bellies of disinformation bulging out of the White House, had turned into its mouthpiece. "Your reporting, and you, are missed," Scooter Libby wrote to her while she was in jail, sent up while protecting him from prosecution. (More cryptic, he included some lines about aspens that "turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.")
There's a lesson here, for those of us desperately seeking role models, for those of us who want members of our sex to sharpen their elbows and succeed, for those too used to the voice of authority speaking above a carefully knotted tie. I'm guilty of the same sin Judy committed, thinking someone's appearance and position might make them more trustworthy. I deceived myself; she deceived a nation when she reported as truth what she was told by suspect sources such as Scooter Libby. (Sources she still protects by "forgetting" who told her first about Ms. Plame's CIA connections.)
For that, she deserves jail time.
I hear these days she's writing fiction. Maybe she'll turn out to be a pretty decent crime novelist, but frankly, there are lots of makeup-wearing role models already in that field. As for Scooter Libby, I hear Nicholas Sparks wants his purple prose back.