Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize winning
New York Times journalist, heard in mid 2001 that Al Qaeda was planning a major
attack on the United
States – but didn’t
write the story. The reasons why, revealed in this exclusive interview on the Media is a Plural blog, make for fascinating reading about a
top reporter’s life, and the way newsroom decisions are made.

Miller is the reporter at the centre of the ongoing perjury and obstruction
of justice scandal involving top White House officials. On 4 July 2001, she was in Washington
DC because her contacts were worried there
would be an attack that weekend. Nothing happened, but, Miller says:

I did manage to have a conversation with a source that weekend. The person
told me that there was some concern about an intercept that had been picked up …
two members of Al Qaeda … had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing
disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more
seriously against what had happened to the Cole. And one Al Qaeda operative was
overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big
now that the US
will have to respond.’

And I was obviously floored by that information … I remember going back to
work in New York the next day and
meeting with my editor Stephen Engelberg. I was rather excited, as I usually
get about information of this kind, and I said, “Steve, I think we have a great
story”. And Stephen said, “That’s great! Who were the guys overheard?”

I said, “Well, I don’t know. I just know that they were both Al Qaeda

“Where were they overheard?” Steve asked.

Well, I didn’t know where the two individuals were. I didn’t know what
countries they were in; I didn’t know whether they were having a local call or
a long distance call.

“What was the attack they were planning?” he said. “Was it domestic, was it
international, was it another military target, was it a civilian target?”

I didn’t know.

“Had they discussed it?”

I didn’t know, and it was at that point that I realised that I didn’t have
the whole story. As Steve put it to me, “You have a great first and second
paragraph. What’s your third?”

The whole interview is well worth reading. It should make quite a splash,
revealing as it does the tensions between sections of the Washington
intelligence community.

And for media junkies, there is another reason worth looking at this blog –
one of the more influential in the United States
media blogging world. Those who think that blogs can’t be serious journalism,
look at the quality of the content, and the richness of the links, and reflect.
In this country, we’re only just starting.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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