The "Most Dangerous Woman" in America: New York Brunette, The Queen Of Conspiracies
08 July 2015
By Amir Taheri
To those who see world events through the prism of conspiracies, Judith
Miller, a soft-spoken New York brunette, is the Queen of Conspiracies. It was
she who sold the idea of toppling Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi despot, to the
American public by acting as loudspeaker for a club of conspirators that
included President George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, the CIA, and a
dozen other intelligence agencies hiding behind acronyms. The conspiracy of
which she was the queen included a cast of lesser characters, notably the
Iraqi banker-cum-politician Ahmad Chalabi, the Kuwaiti parliamentarian
Muhammad Jassem Al-Saqar, and the arch-neocon of the Bush administration
At the time that the idea of getting rid of Saddam was being raised, Miller
was a star reporter in the New York Times's investigative journalism team
with more than two decades of experience working many beats including years
spent covering the Middle East.
In 2002, as President Bush was assembling forces to move on Baghdad, Miller
was arguably one of the American reporters most knowledgeable about the
Middle East. She was also well-trusted by the US establishment. Having served
years in the New York Times's Washington Bureau she knew the American ruling
elite better than most. In fact, for years she even had a Congressman as a
steady boyfriend. (Les Aspin later became President Bill Clinton's defense
secretary.) She also had the "correct background," with Russian, Jewish and
Irish–Catholic genetic roots and years spent in different parts of the vast
nation, from New Jersey to Las Vegas, not to mention having attended one of
America's top universities.
So, who within the US establishment wouldn't want to confide in "Judy" as her
friends know her?
In the build-up to war, Ms. Miller was the author or co-author of scores of
news items designed to show that Saddam Hussein still pursued a clandestine
program for producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as part of a sinister
strategy against the US and its regional allies. After the war it became
clear that Saddam had long ceased having WMDs on the scales suggested by the
"stories" often splashed on the front-page of the New York Times and other
leading American journals.
That discovery, plus the mistakes that the Bush administration committed in
post-Saddam Iraq, produced a massive anti-war backlash. A war that had been
supported by up to 80 percent of Americans in 2002 garnered the support of no
more than 30 percent four years later.
As always in human history the search for a scapegoat was on.
The US media, the American establishment, and society at large needed a
scapegoat whose sacrifice would purify them and allow life to resume its
normal course. The search for the scapegoat went in many directions,
targeting even vice president Cheney, not to mention the "neocon cabal" and
then-British prime minister Tony Blair. Soon, however, it became clear that
none of these "big beasts" could be conducted to the sacrificial altar.
Judith Miller became an easy prey. Had she not written all those sensational
stories about Saddam's WMDs—stories later picked up by the entire media and
amplified over and over again?
Miller had also become vulnerable within her own paper. The publisher and the
editor realized that the New York Times's own traditional constituency, the
champagne-and-caviar left, were now disenchanted with the war, and, without
necessarily missing Saddam, wished to scalp those who had toppled him.
Forgetting a dozen editorials he himself had penned in support of invading
Iraq, the paper's editor Bill Keller started commissioning "stories" about
how the public had been misled on Saddam's WMDs. Thus, even from the New York
Times's view Miller seemed a suitable scapegoat.
However, in one of those ironies that add spice to history, Miler's "stories"
could not be used as material for her crucifixion. All the "stories" were
properly sourced and, being a master in the art of journalistic equivocation,
Miler had taken extra care to always make it clear that in every case all
assertions about Iraq's WMDs should be taken with at least half a pinch of
The typical American news "story" is built like a piece of art with Lego
cubes. It has a general theme—in this case that Iraq is hiding WMDs. It uses
at least three sources, one for the theme, one against it, and one neutral.
At least one of the sources must be identified by name and position. But
having at least one source "speaking on condition of anonymity" adds mystery
to the piece. When a contradictory view cannot be clearly referenced, the
reporter gets around the hurdle by saying, "this could not be independently
British journalists often claim that while they write "news," their American
cousins write "stories," a creative activity that is closer to literature
The experienced American reporter knows how to tilt the story towards one
view or another. Thus, before the war all the "stories," in the New York
Times and other media, explicitly or implicitly showed that Saddam was hiding
WMDs. After the war, however, the "stories" were recalibrated to show that
the sources had all been either wrong or mendacious.
In the event, however, Miller was tried and sent to jail for a "story" she
had not written. This was about the exposing of a CIA agent whose husband had
been sent to Niger to find out whether or not Saddam, was buying uranium
"yellowcake," something supposedly needed for making an atomic bomb. Miller
did not write about that but was named by another reporter as having said she
had heard about it. When the public prosecutor, a man named Fitzegerald and
thirsting for fame, demanded that Miller name the person from whom she had
heard the "story," she refused. She insisted that reporters should honor the
anonymity of their sources.
Needless to say the whole thing was absurd. The US didn't need to send anyone
to Niger because that country's uranium mines and related industries are
under control of a French state-owned company. A phone call from the US
Embassy in Paris could have clarified the matter. Also, a brief Internet
research would have shown that no "yellowcake" is produced in Niger (a
French-owned unit exists in neighboring Gabon).
Even going to jail did not end Miller's ordeal. She was still branded "the
most dangerous woman in America" and "the prophetess of wars and lies."
In the event, Iraq became a four-letter word in the slanging match that goes
for political debate in the United States. Used as a device to settle scores
in domestic politics, Iraq itself was hardly covered. Americans were never
told what caused the war, how it was conducted, and what its complex outcomes
Miller has related her ordeal, and a good part of her life, in her latest
book, The Story: A Reporter's Journey, in which she exposes the brutality of
American public life with its self-righteous obsession with superhuman
ethical standards that are never meant to be honored. She shows how one's
best friends always keep a dagger in their sleeve just in case, and how those
who beat their chests the hardest about "the public interest" are most
concerned about their own careers and positions and profits.
Miller depicts the incestuous relationship between political powers and the
media as a dagger for genuine freedom of information. It is not only during a
war that reporters are "embedded" with military units. In peacetime, too,
many reporters are "embedded" with the segments of government they are
charged to cover. One can also admire Miller for her courage in showing how
many people in American public life, including public prosecutors, are more
concerned about promoting their own careers than performing their duties.
Miller's book will not silence her many critics. But for those who have no
axe to grind this is a highly readable account of a decades-long journalistic
career shaped in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and, of course,
the United States itself, much of it spent in the field.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London
and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.