Monday, October 17

SPJ: Judy Miller's AOK

Editor & Publisher: SPJ Reaffirms Decision to Give Judith Miller Its First Amendment Award:

NEW YORK The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has reaffirmed its plans to honor embattled New York Times reporter Judith Miller with its First Amendment Award on Tuesday, amid new revelations concerning the reporter's involvement in the CIA leak investigation and her recent grand jury testimony. Mac McKerral, a board member, told E&P today that the SPJ board, which has more than 20 members, met again on Saturday and reiterated its desire to give her the award. "We have had members who have e-mailed us that this is a bad idea, and that is why we revisited the issue at the convention and reaffirmed it," he said, noting that he knew of no board members who had voted against the decision this weekend. Reached Monday, SPJ board members stressed that the honor is not meant to be an assessment of her entire career.
I'm an SPJ member, but I am going to have to consider resigning in a huff. If the SPJ board had asked me, I would have voted to wait until we had debated the import of a newly revealed fact: Miller signed a secrecy agreement with the Dept. of Defense in relation to the traveling circus into which she transformed the hunt for nonexistent Iraqi WMDs. As a former CBS reporter argues in a letter to Poynter, that's just totally unethical, in my view. Me, I'm sitting here looking through the SPJ Code of Ethics and trying to see whether the naive boobs who wrote the thing up maybe wouldn't have thought so, too. Some tenets of professional practice that may apply:
Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection. Balance a criminal suspect?s fair trial rights with the public?s right to be informed. Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity. Disclose unavoidable conflicts. Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
If the SPJ were to uphold those principles, they'd be trying Miller in a moot court instead of handing her a plaque at a flashbulb-illuminated industry grip-and-grin. The woman secretly agreed, on pain of prosecution, not to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about whatever the military found out about WMDs, then went to jail to protect a suspect widely known to have been involved in disseminating the WMD claims--and possibly also in operations to undermine the credibility of persons seeking to debunk them. How can her actions be unambiguously interpreted as admirable and ethical under those circumstances? I'm writing the President of the SPJ Board right now demanding an explanation.

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