Judith Miller: The Media Shield Law Is Long Overdue

Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail while protecting a source, talks about the media shield law.

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Do you think that your case in general has helped or harmed the prospects of getting this legislation passed?

Sen. Arlen Specter told me when he visited me in jail and Rep. Mike Pence has said publicly that he was motivated by my case to propose the shield law legislation. Senator Specter said that my case was a major factor in his position that we needed such a law. So I think rather than saying no, they're wrong, I'll let the sponsors of the legislation speak for their own motivations. Do you think the public generally supports the idea of journalists having this protection?

Yes, I think they do. The polls show they do. Despite the criticism of the minority of colleagues from the press, from the public I received thousands of letters when I was in jail. People were upset that a country that called itself free was sending a reporter to jail. That's not good for democracy. You've been away from the Times for almost three years now. Do you have any regrets?

I wouldn't do anything differently. I felt that I made the right decision when I went to jail. I felt I made the right decision when I came out of jail. Holding out for a personal and written waiver that I could question my source about was the right position to take. Once again my intention was to give the source the choice of releasing me or not. It's his call. It's not my decision. And what about the original waiver that you received...?

It was a blanket waiver. That was a waiver demanded by his boss, and it was not specific. And when my lawyer Floyd Abrams specifically asked him for a personal waiver, Scooter Libby's lawyer said no. That's where we stood, and people didn't know that for a long time because it wasn't until I was released that all of that came out. What did you learn about yourself in prison. Did the experience change you?

It made me think differently about who's in jail and why they're in jail. I got very interested in the prison system and very opposed to mandatory drug laws and some of the other reasons why we have the largest proportionally incarcerated population in the world in the United States. I stayed in touch with some of the women I was in prison with. It wasn't a Martha Stewart prison, as they say. It was tough. But it was also a very well-run prison. I think I came to appreciate how lucky I was to be, weirdly enough, at the Alexandria Detention Center as opposed to some of the other places that we read about and see in the press. And as a result, I got a dog. I gave my husband a dog when I went away. I thought he wouldn't be quite so lonely. You took a lot of heat for your role in the Valerie Plame affair. If you could name one of each—what criticism do you think was fair and what criticism do you think was unfair?

Well, there was a stream of absolutely factually wrong stories from Arianna Huffington, who never apologized or corrected the record. She was wrong about everything. I didn't go to jail to protect myself because I was the source. I didn't go to jail for a book contract. I fully intended never to write anything until Scooter Libby's legal plight was adjudicated. I felt it was inappropriate to do so. And unethical. Do you think any criticism of you was fair?

I didn't see a lot of it. I just didn't see a lot of it because in jail you don't get newspapers and when I came out I had many more things to do. We got the Washington Post for 22 women. I finally got the New York Times delivered. There's no Internet in jail...it's not like you can do your Google search in the morning. What do you think your legacy will be?

I really hope it will be a shield law. And I hope to some extent that I encourage other journalists not to accept these blanket waivers. I think it's made us all a little more cautious about promising anonymity to sources. [When you are doing] intelligence reporting or you're interviewing "senior government officials," as they are routinely called in our papers, it has been fairly standard I think if they say, "I don't want to see my name in print," to say, "Yeah." That's the way Washington has traditionally worked. I think because of what happened in my case, people have had to be a little more careful about that. I think me, too, we were all a little too cavalier about extending anonymity pledges to sources. On the other end, it's very hard when you are dealing with people who handle intelligence to get any information at all if you are going to name them. It's a very tough area to report in.