In the Car with Judith Miller

Back in the late 1980’s, as a young journalism graduate just starting my professional career, I was fortunate enough one afternoon to meet the Pulitzer Prize winning senior reporter and investigative journalist, Judith Miller. One of my colleagues had asked me to give a ride to an important person who had just finished speaking at a convention/meeting at the San Jose Convention Center. All I knew was that the person I was picking up was a female who worked for the esteemed newspaper, the New York Times.  Miller worked for the New York Times Washington bureau as news editor and deputy bureau chief.

I was excited to meet someone who worked for, what many believed at the time and some still do, the nation’s greatest newspaper/media outlet. I’m writing about this so many years later because Miller has since become well-known for her controversial reporting on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. In fact, shortly after one of her articles on Iraq was published, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld all appeared on television and pointed to Miller’s story as a contributory motive for going to war. Six or seven of the stories she wrote about Iraq turned out to be inaccurate or completely false. Miller, herself, admits she got the stories wrong and says she was just reporting government intelligence reports at the time.

Miller has also gained fame as a result of her involvement in disclosing Valerie Plame’s identity with the CIA. She spent 85 days in jail for claiming reporter’s privilege and refusing to reveal her sources in the CIA leak. The movie “Nothing But the Truth” is loosely based on the Valerie Plame/CIA leak case and stars Kate Beckinsale as the Judith Miller character. But back to that sunny afternoon in San Jose, California. We met in the lobby area of the Convention Center. Immediately, I thought she was an attractive woman. She also came across as demure and very professional. After introducing myself, we walked to the parking garage and my white four-door Honda Civic.

During the 45 minute drive up Interstate 101 on the San Francisco peninsula, I remember asking why she was headed to Belmont. She told me she was visiting an old friend, Philip Habib. I told her I had heard of him, knowing he had worked for President Reagan’s administration. Habib was a Lebanese-American career diplomat known for work in Vietnam, South Korea and the Middle East. Reagan had appointed him special envoy to Central America.  In 1992, Habib suffered a heart attack and died.

Since it was commute time in the Bay Area, traffic was heavy.  For most of the drive, Miller placed what appeared to be some type of allergy mask over her mouth. I asked about it, and she said it was to protect her from the exhaust coming from the many cars traveling up the busy highway. This despite the windows in the car being shut. Overall, my impression of her was that she was very personable, professional, and sweet.

Miller was familiar with the directions to Habib’s house and instructed me up the winding roads in the Belmont hills. The homes there must have a beautiful view, I thought. Habib’s house was near the top of the hill. She commented on what a great view the house had and thanked me for the ride.

I was at least a dozen or so years younger than her with no established career, so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to keep in touch. I thought about it though on the drive back. All these years later, after the Iraq and Valerie Plume controversies, it’s interesting to think back to that day in the car with Judith Miller. She retired from her job of 28 years at the New York Times in November, 2005. Today, you can see her on the Fox News Channel as an analyst. Miller is a bit older than when we met, but she’s still personable, professional, and sweet. Tune in sometime, and you’ll see what I mean.

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