Sunday, October 16, 2005

Boykin Barred from Speaking at MMM + Miller/Plamegate

I was going to post more photos from my visit to IIT and my El ride, but I'm going hold off now because there are two more pressing things I want to write about.


First, this weekend, the highly controversial Nation of Islam leader's Rev. Louis Farrakhan's Millions More March (MMM) was scheduled to take place in Washington, DC. (It did, and drew far fewer people than organizers expected.) The MMM aimed to commemorate and capitalize on the ten-year anniversary of the Million Man March by reigniting a grass-roots conversation on the problems faced by Black people, and especially Black men, in America. We have the highest levels and rates of incarceration, the highest rates of unemployment, and some of the highest rates of HIV seroconversion in this country; Black families also disproportionately suffer from poverty, Black children have disparate rates of educational attainment compared with Whites and others groups, and on and on. The aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy laid bare so much of this for not only America, but the entire world, to see.
One element of this conversation that had gotten some recognition was the possibility of a dialogue involving Black LGBT people; Black LGBTs were present at the march in 1995, but one of the things that some Black LGBT leaders and organizations, like the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), had hoped for was that a real Black LGBT leader and activist could address the attendees. So over the last years, representatives from Farrakhan's camp and the march organizers had been in dialogue with the NBJC. They also were in dialogue with another Black LGBT organization, the Black Men's Exchange (BMX), a bicoastal outfit that began in Oakland in the 1990s. BMX's leader, who has advanced the term "same-gender-loving" (sgl) as a cultural-specific term to counter what he views as the White-normative implications of "gay," "queer," and other frequently used terms (on this page and elsewhere), appeared to have cemented an agreement to speak at the MMM. (He did, and I'm going to see if I can link to any video on CSPAN's site.)

Rod 2.0 and others, however, reported that noted LGBT activist, author, lawyer, and former Clinton White House staffer Keith Boykin (pictured above, at left, with Donna Payne, Farrakhan, and NBJC's H. Alexander Robinnson), along with representatives of NBJC, had spoken personally with Farrakhan, and was also set to speak at MMM. Keith not only has written two authoritative books on the Black LGBT experience, the first an excellent overview with lots of personal history (One More River to Cross), and the most recent one addressing issues related to the "down-low" (DL) identity and performance (On the Down Low), but has served as a leader on Black LGBT issues for years. (I should add that C. and I have known Keith since his law school days.)
According to
Pamindurham's diary today on the Website DailyKos, however, when Keith attempted to speak at the MMM yesterday, he was preventing from doing so by the homophobic Reverend Willie Wilson, who had previously made homophobic statements this summer (his particular fixation, like Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK), appears to be lesbianism...), prevented Keith and the Human Right Campaign's Donna Payne, who'd accompanied him, from speaking. Pamindurham quotes several different sources, including MetroWeekly's Will O'Bryan, TerrenceDC's Million More March (Not) Missed, and Keith's own blog to fill out her account. According to Keith:
This is what happened today. After I arrived at the VIP tent shortly after 8 in the morning, my colleague Donna Payne spoke directly to Rev. Willie Wilson backstage, and he informed her that no one from the National Black Justice Coalition would be speaking today. Donna told Rev. Wilson that he was violating our agreement, and Wilson replied that the agreement was void because the Coalition had not responded by Friday. That was not true.
Rev. Wilson's excuse seemed a mere pretext to prevent us from speaking. Sadly, I am not surprised. He has been an obstacle to this process all along. Ever since his controversial July 3 sermon in which he blamed the rise of lesbianism for the problems in the black community, Rev. Wilson seems to have developed ill feelings toward the black gay community for responding to his attack. That was three months ago, and I had hoped to use my speech today to extend an olive branch to Rev. Wilson to move beyond our differences and heal our wounds, but his actions this morning made that impossible.

The powerful speech he was not allowed to deliver is here. The Washington Post reports today that Black LGBTs present then turned what was supposed to be a "unity rally" into a vocal protest and march at Keith's exclusion. More power to them! Meanwhile, did Farrakhan know from the beginning that this was a set-up? Was he acting in bad faith? As for the Talevangelist types people like Wilson, who call themselves "Christians," do they have any concept of what the Gospels say or of Christ's example of love and tolerance? And where are the masses of mainstream Christians who should be calling them out on their hatefulness and obsession with sexuality and homosexuality in particular? Why, in the midst of all that that Black people are facing, are people like Wilson so fixated on sexuality and homosexuality in particular? What are they afraid of or hiding from?

I also have to wonder, since Wilson and others allowed the BMX representative speak, what did he (since it's an all-male group) have to say, about the topics at hand, about sexuality, and about Keith's exclusion? Or did he collude, through silence and oversight, in our oppression and exclusion? I'm not wasting an iota of gray matter trying to figure out the answer to that question.

As for the Millions More March, I had not seriously considered attending, and am glad I didn't. I'm also glad to hear that "millions" didn't waste their time. (I do wonder if a good friend went, though.) While the focus on the issues facing Black Americans, Black men and women, Black families, is critical and crucial, and must translate into more than rhetoric or misguided reaction, Farrakhan, by affording Wilson so much power and allowing BMX to assert its very slanted viewpoints as any kind of statement about the experiences of Black LGBT or same-gender-loving people (BMX, what about Black lesbians, bis and transgender people?), proved that was the person to organize or foster the necessary discussions and conversations that have to occur, and underscored MMM wasn't the venue in which they'd take place.

By now, one would have to be hiding under a rock not to know at least the rudiments of the Treasongate-Plamegate-Traitorgate drama that is steaming towards a finale of sorts at the end of this month (or perhaps sooner), when Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to issue a series of indictments against individuals believed to have committed any number of crimes that arose from the outing in the summer of 2003 to journalists of and Robert Novak's publication of classified information in a newspaper column about Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA operative whose husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had emerged as a vocal critic of the W administration's propaganda efforts to build the case for the War in Iraq.

One key cog in the wheels of the outing has been New York Times reporter Judith Miller. As is also well known, she spent 85 days in a Washington jail for refusing to testify before an empaneled grand jury in Fitzgerald's probe. Although she presented her stance as a honorable example of journalistic integrity and honor, it has since emerged that in fact, Miller's role in this entire mess is much, much murkier. But then, for those who'd followed Miller's career and her close ties to neoconservatives and powerful Republicans, this isn't suprising. In the lead-up to the Iraq War, she wrote a series of articles touting exclusive, sourced information about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities and capacity; the articles and the information in them were later proved to be grossly wrong. In addition, she went to Iraq as an embedded reporter with the MET Alpha group after the fall of Hussein's rule to report on the discovery of those WMDs, which President W, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell had all claimed would be found. As critics of Miller--including yours truly--imagined, no proof--not just no conclusive proof, but no proof whatsoever--of an extensive WMD arsenal or of programs to weaponize the nonexistant nuclear materials, and biological and chemical agents that the W administration terrified the public into believing were in Iraq, was found, by any of the figures (David Kay, Charles Duelfer, etc.) charged with finding them. Those WMDs and the fact that they were readily weaponizable were, let us never forget, the W administration's chief and often-stated rationale and pretext for toppling Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq. W pressed this point in his 2003 State of the Union address, and his officials reiterated it again and again in public appearances and speeches. Not to liberate the Iraqis from a tyrant with whom Reagan and HW had cooperated intimately for 8 years, not to spread democracy, not to protect Israel, not to remake the Middle East. It was to destroy the man who had all those WMDs AND avenge the 9/11 attacks, though, as the president himself subsequently admitted, there were no established ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, the person behind the 9/11 suicide attacks.

After the truth of the nonexistant WMDs came to light, Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller had to issue a public mea culpa apologizing for the shoddy reporting and the paper's role in further the W administration's agenda. Five of the six faulty articles that Keller cited were written or co-written by Miller, who bizarrely claimed at the time claimed that events somehow vindicated her. Huh? Keller nevertheless took her off the WMDs beat shortly after taking over, but as he notes in the long, new quasi-mea culpa published in today's Times, the self-described "Miss Run Amok" (?) "drifted" back into "the national security realm." In fact, as recently as early this summer, before her stay in the hoosegow, she was again carrying water for the administration by pushing its slanted take on the United Nations' Oil-for-Food scandal. The scandal's chief investigator, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, actually ended up implicating the US government's laissez-faire-to-negligent approach as a contribution the scandal, though Miller's articles said little about this. But back to Miller, how was she able to do what she felt like? Why wasn't there more--any?--control over this employee?

Meanwhile, the Fitzgerald probe has been cranking along since it got underway, after the strong push from CIA agents, in the fall of 2003. Slowly but surely, a number of Washington and New York journalists, including Miller, Time's Matthew Cooper, the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, and TV personalities Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell, as well as high-level administration officials like W's political marioneteer and fixer Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, found themselves part of Fitzgerald's dragnet. Even the President, Vice President, and past and former Secretaries of State have testified; Condoleezza Rice admitted "cooperating" with Fitzgerald this morning. Although Libby, who was thought to be Miller's chief source, provided her with a waiver through his lawyer in 2004, Miller dramatically took a stand, after being ordered by a federal judge to testify in the case, that she would not reveal her supposedly "lone" source. (Libby later wrote a personal letter again giving her a waiver, but the drama queen refused to or pretended to believe it wasn't coerced.) The Times dramatically decided to back her, viewing and promoting her as a confidentiality champion, and consistently did so all through this past summer. Well, well, well, what a difference a year, some time in jail, a raveling story, and a competent lawyer named Patrick Fitzgerald make.
Miller is now out of jail and has testified twice before the grand jury. Supposedly she decided to sing like a canary (or should I say nightingale?) after Libby spoke with her via conference call and suggested she testify. This was after she realized that Fitzgerald might charge her with criminal contempt and that the grand jury could be extended, thus meaning she'd stay in jail for potentially 16 more months. Even the steady stream of important people (including major journalists, the problematic UN Ambassador John Bolton, and others) didn't lighten her time in the slammer very much; there is only so much bad food, thin mattresses, and monitored phone calls that most non-masochists can take. Not only has Miller sung (though she's ludicrously claimed she can't recall if Libby outed Plame to her), but she supposedly "found" a notebook from a June interview with Libby that she'd forgotten to pass onto the prosecutor; and, with her criminal attorney, Bob Bennett (brother of white supremacist-gambling-addict-hypocrite Bill Bennett), she may have cut a deal of some sort with Fitzgerald to keep her bony backside from returning behind bars.

Meanwhile, the august Gray Lady, the Newspaper of Record, the journalistic organ than ironically announces--despite its roles in the Whitewater fiasco, the relentless destruction of Al Gore that aided W in being able to stage his 2000 coup, the jayson Blair brouhaha, and the Iraq War buildup--that it publishes "all the news fit to print," had long remained silent about Miller, its disastrous coverage of the Plame outing, and the potentially criminal aspects of the affair. Other news organizations and innumerable blogs have repeatedly scooped the Times about its own reporter and the grand jury deliberations. So today, it served up a tepid bucket of spit (to modify Vice President John Nance Garner's phrase) by staff reporters, a long and hole-ridden story that posed more questions than it answered. A number of the statements in it simply did and do not make sense or square with each other, as if there were some major point that either the reporters or the Times itself was not telling us. (Which made me wonder--is or was Judith Miller a CIA or Pentagon or government agent herself?)

It also published a strange, evasive, self-serving, 3,500 account by Miller that should serve as grounds for her immediate dismissal, unless it was meant to be a joke or was the opening to her book proposal. One particularly troubling issue she raises in her piece was the fact that despite her self-proclaimed espousals of the sanctity of her role as a journalist and defender of the truth, she had a security clearance*, meaning that she was starting from the premise that she couldn't report on classified information she came across and was basically working as an operative. Say what? Did the Times know about and condone this, or did she hide it from them? And are other Times reporters operating under similar ethical and professionally dubious constraints? Can we trust them if they claim there aren't?

What both pieces underlined for me was that Times has displayed yet again that it cannot be taken seriously any more as a legitimate source of news regarding politics and national affairs (it still has interesting high arts, science, fashion, etc. coverage). Indeed, I was so personally disgusted that I wrote the following letter ending my brief experiment with TimesSelect. I sent it not only to their "cancel" e-mail address, but also to the Executive Editor, the Managing Editor, the Public Editor, and their Help Desk, just in case someone else there might see the piece. (I have already received an automatic response from the new public editor, Byron Calame.) I tried not to go overboard:

Dear New York Times:

I am writing to unsubscribe from TimesSelect.

While I have relied on the New York Times for many years as one of my main news sources and have long treasured your reporting, I am so dismayed and unnerved by the newspaper's long account surrounding the Judith Miller reporting scandals on WMDs and Iraq and the failure to address fully and truthfully her role in outing CIA operative Valerie Plame that I am going to have to unsubscribe from TimesSelect for now. Neither the long "mea culpa" nor Ms. Miller's self-serving sidebar answers a number of basic questions, including WHO WAS HER SOURCE and why can a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist not recall who told her something so incredibly politically significant and valuable. Also, neither account explores why I. Lewis Libby would have been discussing Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife with her well in advance of his Op-Ed in the New York Times, who the mystery editor was who did not allow her to publish her story on the topic, what role UN Ambassador John Bolton may have played in this whole saga (since she had previously reported faulty information conveyed by him, like the illusory links between Iran and Cuba on WMDs, in the New York Times), and what her true connection was to the late Dr. David Kelly, who'd been exposed as the source on the "sexed up" intelligence in the Blair "white paper" that later turned about to be full of falsehoods.

Why has the New York Times not only given us the full account of what Ms. Miller was up to, but linked all these dots? I mean, this is one the great newspapers in the world, so I'm unclear about why it hasn't been able to make these connections.

But back to my first question, how is it that she cannot recall who told her the name "Valerie Flame" (or later "Victoria Wilson"), and why didn't the New York Times editors and writers press her on this?

When the New York Times's editor-in-chief, Bill Keller, and some more of your reporters completely clarify what really went on, when they explain why Ms. Miller is still employed at the newspaper after her series of dreadful, grossly wrong reports about WMDs, when they justify her defiance of her editor's decision to pull her off the WMD beat, when they explicate why she cannot say decisively who told her about "Valerie Flame," and so on, I will strongly consider signing up again.

For the time being, however, I cannot comprehend the damage that you have allowed to be done to your journalistic integrity. I can't comprehend it, but then I am not a journalist, just a very concerned citizen who wishes that a newspaper like the New York Times would live up to its potential and reputation, and serve as a beacon of the free press. Instead, it has repeatedly allowed Ms. Miller (like Elizabeth Bumiller, Frank Bruni, and so many others) to turn it into yet another propaganda weapon on behalf of the Bush administration. The effects of this on our politics, our public discourse, our standing in the world, and our country in general are incalculable.

Plame_WilsonMany of the issues I raise in this unsubscription letter have been raised by others, but I really would love for the Times or Miller to answer the basic question of WHO told her the name "Valerie Flame" and later, I presume, "Victoria Wilson?" How could she not recall who did so, or is it more likely the case that she's lying to protect someone? If it wasn't Libby, then who was it? Why did she tell her editor that she hadn't been one of the people to whom this information was leaked? Why did she also try to have her lawyer get Fitzgerald to limit his questioning of her to the issue of Libby as her source if she says Libby didn't give her this name and someone else did? And why doesn't the Times piece ask these basic facts? I am not a journalist, as I note, nor a lawyer, and like all human beings, I transpose and mix up facts. (Hell, I can't even get names right anymore.) But isn't a journalist expected to remember who said what and when, and be able to use notes as a guide to backing up supposedly truthful statements? (Also, her odd recitation of what her "notes" confirm made me wonder, what does she recall? Because she surely didn't and couldn't let the notes speak for her to Fitzgerald and the grand jury.) Fiction writers, no. But people working in non-fictional genres, especially journalists, have this burden, don't they? Don't they?

I think this case will prove more than yet another bad but survivable storm in the winter of W's 2nd term discontent; it may be the opening gambit into a larger and more comprehensive examination of how the American people were systematically duped into supporting an unnecessary, possibly illegal, and certainly poorly conducted war. Supposedly Fitzgerald is mulling obstruction, conspiracy and perjury charges in addition to indictments based on the 1917 law forbidding the leaking of classified information by government officials and the more recent law expressly prohibited identifying undercover CIA agents. Given how frequently the GOP leaders have lied over the last five years, I wouldn't doubt that they thought they could get away with a few more concerning this case. (Rove was "not involved" in the leak; Rove learned about Plame "from" Matt Cooper; Lewis Libby "did not reveal" Plame's name to any of the reporters he spoke to; etc.) It is somewhat depressing to consider that our GOP-controlled Congress, which is charged with serving as our representatives in the government, refuse to do their job, and that our media, especially powerful independent organs like the Times, also will not assume their role as independent guardians of the truth. But we still do have a justice system; the radical right, Straussian neocons, and Talevangelists have not totally wrecked it yet, and if Fitzgerald can do his job even halfway competently, we will see some of the most dangerous officials who've been manipulating the public at will finally pay a price--even modest ones--for having done so. As to whether we'll ever get the full truth, or whether the Times will ever recover, who can say? I don't want to say I doubt it, but over the last fiveyears, the cynical attitude has increasingly seemed to be the aptest one.

Update 1: Actually, I decided to finish Judith Miller's article in the New York Times, and I have to say, its ending is sooooo bizarre, I'm not sure what to make of it.

Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter's closing lines. "Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning," Mr. Libby wrote. "They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them."

How did I interpret that? Mr. Fitzgerald asked.

In answer, I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy hat and sunglasses approached me. He asked me how the Aspen conference had gone. I had no idea who he was.

"Judy," he said. "It's Scooter Libby."

Say what? She doesn't recognize a man she'd interviewed in person twice and said she trusted? How does her question answer Fitzgerald's, or address that creepy, cryptic passage of Libby's? And what on earth could it mean? Okay, it could be a straightforward comment about aspen trees, which are deciduous, but then it very well could be code, a sort of verbal steganography (the encoding of secret messages in Net-based images), letting Miller know...what? They're all linked, and uh, the roots of one tree, if felled, could bring down the others...???

*Update 2: This Franklin Foer article from New York magazine actually explores in detail Miller's sordid background, her links to the neocons, a hint at the whole security clearance business, and her colleagues' marked dislike of her. It explains why she was "running amok" before Bill Keller took over, but not why, after he'd had to defend the paper against her depradations, he didn't play a stronger hand, especially after the administration's lies become increasingly more transparent.


Okay, here are two photos that have nothing to do either with either of the pieces above, but everything to do with baseball mania in Chicagoland.

A young "Green" Chicago White Sox fan on the southbound Red Line train

Cellular One (New Comiskey) ballpark, from the Gate 4 side, home of the Chicago White Sox (South Side!). If they win tonight, they'll return here for the World Series. If they don't win tonight, they'll return here to close out the ALDS. Either way, the place'll be mobbed!

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