Readers weigh in on the Cooper-Miller case and Iraqi teenage prostitutes. Plus: Is the Senate's apology for lynching too little, too late?

By Salon Staff
Published June 29, 2005 7:12PM (EDT)

[Read "A Bitter Defeat for the Press," by Farhad Manjoo.]

Though it's certainly rich to hear Judith Miller talk about a reporter's need for confidential sources to do her job, I too share Farhad Manjoo's concern about the consequence of the court's ruling on the ability of the press to do its job. Unlike Manjoo, however, I place the fault squarely on the shoulders of the reporters themselves.

When sources in positions of power anonymously pass along information that is damaging to those without power, and that information serves no other purpose, the reporter essentially becomes a mouth organ of the state in destroying the enemies of the establishment.

The real "chilling effect" upon whistle-blowers lies in the intimidation that these sources can anonymously cast by exploiting journalists' ethics.

Miller and Cooper see themselves as taking a stand for a principle, but it's a principle misapplied. I don't believe they should go to jail, but the real ethical stand for their profession would be to reveal those who have used them in this way.

By drawing a line in the sand and saying loudly and clearly, "I will not be used for vendettas," journalists will be less likely to fall victim to intimidators, and true whistle-blowers will be reassured. If they do not, the reporters will have instead blurred a line that should be distinct and severely damaged the Fourth Estate they thought they were protecting.

-- Paul Ketzle

I know you are a news organization, like the rest of the press. But what Manjoo leaves out seems not to bother him.

Firstly, Plame ran a network of agents and informers, all of whom were put at grave risk by her disclosure. Just because she was in Virginia at the time is not a reason to discount the damage the disclosure by Novak had on national security.

Secondly, I am at a loss to understand why the press seems so willing to be an accessory in the commission of a crime against national security. You all seem to think that you have an unlimited right to confidentiality. You do not. The Supreme Court has told you so by not hearing the case.

All confidentiality rights have certain limits. Lawyers, psychiatrists and journalists. You have limits to your rights just like the rest of us. Get over it.

Miller and Cooper should talk to the prosecutor because it is the right thing to do under the circumstances.

Stop whining about your supposed rights. In this case, you just plain do not have the right to let people jeopardize the identity of covert agents, whether they are stationed here or abroad.

-- Gregory Burnell

Manjoo got it wrong and the court got it exactly right. As the Branzburg decision, which is settled law, makes clear, nothing gives reporters the right to withhold testimony from a federal grand jury investigating a serious crime.

All privilege, whether between lawyer and client, doctor and patient or priest and confessor, is limited when information vital to a criminal investigation is concerned. Why should reporters be different? Manjoo writes that, "Branzburg should only apply when the reporter has direct knowledge of a serious crime that cannot be prosecuted in any other way besides compelling the journalist's disclosure." Isn't that exactly the case here? The argument that this somehow hampers a free press holds no water, and the comparison to Deep Throat is off the mark. The identity of Deep Throat was in no way vital to any criminal prosecution -- witness that the Watergate trials proceeded very well without that knowledge. Here, Miller's source is key to the crime (and may be the criminal himself), whether the crime is outing a covert operative or, more likely, perjury. If Manjoo is confused as to what's going on with Fitzgerald's prosecution, I suggest he read John Dean on the subject.

The question is, will Miller and Cooper talk? I think they should, if only out of respect for the court. They are not above the law. In this country the Supreme Court has the final say. Ask Al Gore, who, though he was more grievously wronged, had the grace to comply.

-- Morris Sheppard

[Read "Unveiling Iraq's Teenage Prostitutes," by Joshua E. S. Phillips.]

I have two issues with this article. First, it is a non-story that wastes no time telling you as much.

(Skip quickly to the fifth paragraph, where Phillips states there is an increasing number of Iraqi women and girls turning to prostitution in Damascus. Then, in the same sentence, he says that there is no evidence to document this claim.

"An increasing number of young Iraqi women and girls who fled Iraq during the turmoil are turning to prostitution in Syria, although there are no reliable statistics on how many girls are involved.")

One paragraph later he quotes from a U.S. State Department report that says the same thing -- there is no evidence to support what he is saying. Even the people he is interviewing tell him there is no story.

Child prostitution is notoriously difficult to document, and Phillips has certainly not done so here. With only sketchy anecdotal evidence to back him up, he has trouble throughout the story making the distinction between prostitution and child prostitution. This in turn leads to tenuous suggestions that an alarming number of Iraqi children will soon be turning tricks in Syria.

While there is certainly prostitution in Damascus and some of it may indeed involve children, some context is in order, which leads me to my second issue.

America seems to have a willful inability to understand the Middle East. Our current regime is solid enough evidence. Phillips is letting us know that child prostitution (maybe prostitution in general) is bad but for some reason it is even worse when it takes place in the Arab/Muslim Middle East.

On my first visit to Damascus in 1992 I stayed in the first hotel that did not begin by offering me a girl. It took three tries. In the third, they waited until I came down to ask where I could get a beer.

The square he describes, Merjeh, was an open-air vice bazaar like I have never seen in the Middle East. Black market liquor was sold openly and you couldn't get a plate of hummus without being offered 20 minutes upstairs.

Were any of the girls Iraqi? I can't say. The first Gulf War had just ended and Damascus was teeming with refugees. But I can say that what Phillips is describing in this article is a relatively bland portrait of the sex industry in any Middle Eastern capital.

Damascus is not alone; every city in the Middle East I have ever spent time in -- Damascus, Cairo, Amman and Sana'a -- has had a bristling sex trade, with the attendant unpleasantness that accompanies prostitution anywhere in the world.

Vice is as common in the Arab world as it is anywhere else on the planet, but explicit in the entire article is the idea that something un-Islamic is going on. Why is prostitution somehow worse if you are an Arab?

Arabs and Muslims do not need to be treated with kid gloves. In any culture, myth and practice are two very separate things and Arabs are no different. And while it may not be our job in the West to openly challenge the contradictions in the Middle East, it is certainly not our job to coddle them. They certainly do not coddle ours.

-- Joshua Mortensen

[Read "Too Damn Little, Too Damn Late," by Debra J. Dickerson.]

I'm an average, middle-aged white guy. And I'm writing to applaud Debra Dickerson's rejection of the Senate's apology for lynchings. The senators who sponsored the bill deserve a little credit for taking a tiny baby step in the right direction, but we are light-years short of where we should be, nearly 50 years after the start of the civil rights movement. Dickerson's direct and frank analysis is the type of dialogue that we need in this country if we are to really break down racial barriers.

-- Marty Kaczmarek

Salon dramatically lowered the bar for its editorial content by publishing Debra J. Dickerson's self-righteous screed against American racism. I do not know what Dickerson believed she was communicating other than anger, but I will observe that passion is cheap.

America did not and cannot apologize for racism. America is a nation of 250 million individuals, who are not individually responsible for what every other person in this country does or has ever done. I do not take responsibility for lynchings any more than I suspect Dickerson takes responsibility for gang-banging.

This kind of simplistic vitriol closes down communication precisely at the point where it is most needed.

-- Barnaby Thieme

OK, then. I guess we can move on to other things. Personally, I've always felt all this "making amends" was nothing more than gratuitous pandering and totally useless, but thought that saying so would label me a racist. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thought so. Thanks.

-- Reuben L. Owens

I have to wonder why Salon chose to publish this rant. I'm not sure how to respond to the author except to say that her inclusion of all "whites" into one broad, sweeping category is, quite frankly, offensive. Lynch mob members, the entire Senate, and the clerks at Hermes in Paris are all one body and voice? That analysis lacks in truth and sophistication. It also forgets that there were plenty of white people struggling alongside blacks in the fight for civil rights, as well as plenty of Africans and African-Americans conspiring and enabling "whites" during the slave trade and throughout segregation. So, vent your generalized anger knowing it hurts and dehumanizes those of us "whites" that might otherwise consider ourselves (and be working) as your allies.

-- Robert Mauksch

As a black man who grew up in Texas I know quite a bit about the good ol' boys and their actions. As the author stated, no apology would be needed if respect were currently being shown. The attitudes of some whites toward all other races was shocking in its utter lack of human respect. "Sand nigger" -- I still remember the first time I head that one. I couldn't believe what I'd heard.

One day all the minorities will finally realize that, based on numbers, if we all vote, we are the majority. Only then will the apologies be sincere.

Support each other, and remember the first three words of the Declaration of Independence.

-- Novie McAdams

[Read "No Exit," by Farhad Manjoo.]

With regard to the article "No Exit," by Farhad Manjoo, the key issue regarding the historically unprecedented discrepancy between the 2004 election exit polls and reported results is that, to date, seven months after the election:

A) No credible explanation has been offered.

B) The data that would allow independent analysts to investigate has not been released.

The article claims that Elizabeth Liddle's argument in support of the "constant mean reluctant Bush responder hypothesis" (the "rBr hypothesis") implies that a pervasive bias hypothesis can explain the discrepancies. This is factually incorrect (see current USCV working paper, footnote 23) and has even been effectively repudiated by Warren Mitofsky, who now claims that the rBr hypothesis is a "USCV fabrication" (see working paper, footnote 6). Partisan exit poll response rate bias varies dramatically by precinct partisanship. Most notably, high Kerry precincts have almost zero mean and median bias, and high Bush precincts appear to have 33 percent or more pro-Kerry exit poll bias (see working paper, Table 4, Appendix F).

More generally, the multivariate regression analysis that is required to statistically accept, or reject, the hypothesis that the discrepancy could have plausibly resulted from exit-polling error of any kind has not been provided. Mitofsky claims that it has been done but not publicly released (see working paper, footnote 24). He did not respond to the question of why the regressions, and the data, have not been publicly released for independent review and investigation.

In any case, USCV has found that the Edison/Mitofsky hypothethical regarding the Kerry and Bush voter exit-poll response rate shares of Kerry-56 percent and Bush-50 percent, which presumably came out of this unreleased regression analysis, cannot explain the exit polling discrepancy data (see Table 6 of the working paper). This suggests that whatever analysis has been done is, at the very least, inadequate.

Finally, for the record, Ron Baiman stated repeatedly in his interview with Manjoo that USCV was not claiming that the exit poll discrepancy "proved vote miscount." The exit poll data shows that exit poll error explanations offered to date are not plausible. This does not mean that such an explanation does not exist. We cannot be certain at this point that the only possible explanation is vote miscount. However, as no plausible exit polling error explanation has been offered to date, the vote miscount hypothesis remains credible.

The fact that this situation, which casts a cloud on the legitimacy of the 2004 election, persists almost seven months after this election is a national travesty. It is extremely important that the media explain this to the public.

-- Ron Baiman and Kathy Dopp, ElectionArchive.org

Salon Staff

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