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Keep 'Em Both Away From the Court; Superstition by Any Other Name

Judith Miller and Harriet Miers sure have a lot in common.

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Keep 'Em Both Away From the Court

The women obsessing journalists these days are Harriet Miers and Judith Miller. Miers is the one who was loyal to a fault to a senior administration official with a war to justify. Whatever he was up to, her first duty, as she saw it, was to protect him. No, sorry. I guess that was Miller.

The White House had an agenda to wage the war and discredit the war's critics, and Miller served that agenda. You can dress up her behavior and call it virtue, but the facts diminish her. Then again, wasn't that Miers? One of them knows more than she'll ever tell, and one of them probably still knows more than she's telling, even after finding a way around her promise not to tell anything at all. It's hard to keep this straight.

At any rate, nobody can agree on what she stands for. Meaning Miller. No, Miers. She's the one who promised to support an amendment making abortion unconstitutional. Did she mean it? She was running for the Dallas city council at the time, and candidates say stuff. If she meant it, doesn't that mean she thought abortion was constitutional without one? Nobody knows. Nobody trusts her.

But wait--it's Miller nobody trusts. She talks a great game--Miers is definitely the quiet one--but her words ring hollow. At the Society of Professional Journalists convention the other day she said, "As long as our confidential sources are acting in good faith, we have a duty to protect them." But who thinks I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. was acting in good faith? Or as she told the Senate Judiciary Committee when she testified this month on behalf of a federal shield law, "Confidential sources are the life's blood of journalism....As I painfully learned while covering intelligence estimates of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, we are only as good as our sources. If they are wrong, we will be wrong." What does that mean? Garbage in, garbage out? Why should we want a federal law to protect a reporter's right to be duped? Arlen Specter, chairman of the committee, must have been scratching his head when he heard that.

Wait a minute--Miers is the one who had Specter scratching his head. They were chatting about the right to privacy, and either she didn't know what she was talking about or he didn't know what she was talking about, but he thought she said one thing, and then she announced she'd said another. Specter said it was the first time he and a Supreme Court nominee couldn't agree on what was said in a conversation. It was one more reason a lot of people who wish Miers a long, happy life don't want her anywhere near the Supreme Court.

Or is that Miller? A lot of people who thought she was a gallant journalist prayed that the appeal of her contempt conviction would never reach the court because her case for hiding the identity of a senior administration official under investigation for hanky-panky was so god-awful it could only set a precedent that would screw journalists everywhere. Good thing the court decided not to hear her case.

Now that she's not a martyr anymore, plenty of her natural allies have turned against her. They're not sure what she stands for. They question her values. They call her a disaster and want her to go away.

Which describes Miers too. This is so confusing. OK, Miers is the one being crucified in the pages of the New York Times.

Like Miller.

Superstition by Any Other Name

Would the witness please state his name and occupation?

"I'm Biff McGuire, sports editor of the Fisburg Daily Reflux."

Mr. McGuire, do you believe in God?

"If there is a God, why am I still in Fisburg?"

So the answer's no. Then do you believe in science?

"Absolutely! I was introduced to concepts such as momentum, velocity, and chemistry in grade school, and they've been dear to me ever since."

And play a significant role in your life?

"I employ them every day in the sports pages of the Daily Reflux."

As a thoughtful man of science, what is your answer to a question much on the minds of everyone in this courtroom: Has man evolved from the apes?

"No."

No?

"Not much."

May I address the court? I have established that Mr. McGuire, unlike my earlier witnesses, can be accused of no thinly veiled agenda to advance religious doctrine. I suggest that he's a man of no spiritual dimension whatsoever.

And so, Mr. McGuire, as a hardened, cold-eyed--dare I say somewhat cynical--observer of our natural world, do you ever encounter phenomena you can't readily explain?

"I do."

Phenomena that suggest a hidden hand?

"Yes."

Phenomena so peculiar they lead even a secularist like yourself to doubt that we live in a world ruled either by our own abilities--

"Don't I wish!"

Or by random chance?

"Not even that."

May I ask for an example of these phenomena?

"How about the failure of the Fisburg Sitting Ducks to advance to the championship round of the Central Slag League playoffs in 57 years? Our players are uncoordinated, but no more than the opposition's. Our owners would rather trade a player than give him a raise, but that's standard practice around the circuit. The fans are no more apathetic than the fans down the road in Bunyonville. Yet the Bunyonville Ferrets have reached the finals twice in the last seven years."

There's no empirical explanation for this dismal record?

"Not remotely. Some say these things run in cycles. Some say wait till next year. But most in Fisburg blame the Curse of the Opossum, the opossums having been forced to relocate when Fen Overlook Field was constructed in 1949."

Where does the Daily Reflux stand in this debate?

"We're of open minds, but we take the Curse of the Opossum very seriously. Our readers do too."

Please tell the court what happened in the last inning of the last game of last season.

"It looked like this was finally the Sitting Ducks' year. The Ferrets were down to their last strike, and if we won the game it was on to the big show."

And then?

"The batter grounded a two-strike single into left."

And then?

"The next batter walked."

And?

"The next batter hit a pop fly into left field. A lazy can of corn."

And what happened?

"As he stood under the descending ball, our left fielder died."

He died?

"He dropped dead. It turned out his wife had poisoned him before the game, and it just kicked in. Three runs scored, and that was the ball game."

What was your paper's response?

"The editorial board held a meeting. Marketing was also represented. We decided that there was only one possible explanation for what we'd all just seen, and that was the Curse of the Opossum. The paper did everything it could. We sponsored a family of opossums that was welcomed back to Fen Overlook by the high school band, and we invited schoolchildren to contribute original poems singing the creatures' praises."

With any success?

"The Sitting Ducks finished below .500 this year and circulation noted an uptick."

Was this episode unique?

"Not at all. A lot of weird stuff happens in sports."

Have you ever asked yourself if the same hidden hand responsible for your team's misfortune is also responsible for the flowers that bloom and the birds that fly and the irreducible complexity of bacterial flagellum?

"It's something to chew over."

If the Fisburg town council enacted an ordinance forbidding the editorial page of the Daily Reflux to even so much as whisper the possibility of a Curse of the Opossum, what would you say to that?

"I would say get me out of Fisburg."

And if you were ordered to tell the schoolchildren that there is no Curse of the Opossum, so they better write their poems about eternal meaninglessness, cosmic indifference, and infinite chaos, your reply would be?

"Please God, get me out of Fisburg."

I rest.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Ethan Miller--Getty Images, Alex Wong--Getty Images.

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