October 27, 2005

The New Republic Licks Judy Miller's Boots?


If I’ve discovered anything from running this site, it’s that photo analysis is not to be taken lightly.  (The other thing I’ve learned is that there is never a shortage of people who know an awful lot more about a picture than you do.)

That said, I wonder what assistance we could provide to to Franklin Foer (blogging for The New Republic’s “The Plank”) to help appreciate these lessons.  The following is what Mr. Foer wrote on Monday accompanying the picture above.  (For the sake of full disclosure, I increased it’s size, and brightened it up.)

Judy Miller has always been known as a passionate reporter. And, at times, she has tended to forget that The New York Times pays her to be an observer of events, not a participant in them. Many months after I wrote a profile of Miller in New York magazine, a source sent me this shot of her in the Iraqi desert. There’s nothing damning per se about Miller dressing in uniform. But it does seem to perfectly capture the essence of her subject-object confusion. (Incidentally, the uniform, I’m told, belonged to Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzalez. Miller famously pinned a medal on Gonzalez at a Baghdad promotion ceremony.)

Now, I would like to share with you what BAGreader Lucian K. Truscott wrote to Mr. Foer in response.

(You should know that I’m happy to provide the reply for two reasons.  First, Lucian’s insight into the photo is exactly what feeds The BAG.  Second, I particularly empathize with the fact that, regardless how much thought and effort people like Mr. Truscott put into these types of correspondence, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that nothing will be coming back.)


I’m not a fan of Judy Miller and think that the trust that she and
the New York Times both put in leaks by the likes of Chalabi, Libby,
Rove and the rest of the Boy Warriors was unfounded, uninformed, and
downright stupid. But as one who spent over a month with the 101st in
NW Iraq back in the fall-winter of 2003, I would ask you to have
another look the photo you posted:

1. Those do not look like desert camouflage BDU trousers to me.
They are too light in color, I don’t see any cargo pockets, and they
are way too short for a soldier to “blouse” above the tops of his

2. The angle isn’t right, and there is not enough detail to
identify her boots as military-issue. I wore tan hiking boots with a
sturdy, lugged sole in Iraq that could be mistaken for military issue
in a photo such as this one.

3. If the point you’re trying to make is that Judy Miller wore the
Battle Dress Uniform while she was reporting from Iraq, that’s not a
kevlar helmet on her head, and she is not holding a weapon. The absence
of both helmet and weapon would make her, in military terms, “out of
proper uniform” in combat.

4. One easily identifable thing in your photo is the surrounding
landscape. Please note the ground. That isn’t desert “sand.” It is
plain old Iraqi desert. The top layer is the consistency of fine body
or face powder. It gets through, under, and inside everything, from
clothing to ears, eyes, and other body orfices. It’s a form of nasty
“dust” I’ve found nowhere else, not even in Afghanistan. It’s
everywhere. You can’t get away from it. You can never really cleanse
yourself of the stuff, especially when there are very, very few showers
around, and even fewer hot showers, so it’s always all over your
clothes, your stuff, you body, your sleeping bag…everything. It gets
in the water the instant you unscrew a bottle of water. It clouds your
glasses the instant after you wipe them clean. Later, after Miller left
Iraq, the military and the CPA made a lame attempt to “tame” the desert
by spreading a thick layer of gravel on top of things wherever they
went, which was pure folly, since the Iraqi desert immediately went
about the business of replenishing itself with wind, which easily and
quickly covered the goddamned gravel with the same ultra-fine crap that
lay under it. Your photo is not dated, but in Iraq, there are really
only two seasons — summer and winter — and two temperatures —
ungodly hot and ungodly cold — and only one level of physical comfort
— complete, total, utter misery. Whatever Judy Miller is wearing in
your photo, it didn’t provide any protection from the the land or the
elements, and I can assure you from experience that she was every bit
as miserable as the soldier standing next to her.

5. The other easily identifable thing is the Humvee she’s standing
next to. Please note the canvas roof, canvas driver’s door, and
complete lack of doors and roof of any kind “protecting” the rear
seats. I rode in similar unarmored Humvees with the 101st — most of
which had between 250,000 and 300,000 miles on them. If she was riding
in that vehicle — the situation depicted in the photo indicates she
probably was — I can tell you from experience that she was unprotected
from small-arms fire, mortar fire, RPG’s, IED’s of any size or
sophistication, indeed, from any weapon being used against American
forces then or now. Hell, she was even unprotected from somebody
throwing rocks. I don’t care what she was wearing — BDU’s, Prada capri
pants, combat boots or Manolo Blahnik desert “loungers” — riding
around in one of those damn things wasn’t any fun at all.

You seem to have posted this photo seems to imply guilt by
association — in the case of Judy Miller reporting from Iraq, her form
followed fashion. I hope that you would admit that your photo also
implies that anyone who rode around in that unarmored, canvas-clad
Humvee wearing desert-colored boots, thin clothing and a baseball cap
was either crazy, courageous, or both. To admit that in the case of
Judy Miller there might be such a thing as guilt by an emotional
association with others in the face of danger would be just a little
too charitable, huh?

Have another look at your photo and give it some thought, Franklin.
I’ll be real interested in your further thoughts on what combat fashion
means in the case of Judy Miller.

END OF EMAIL [with addtional comment]

To this msg to Mr. Foer, I would add this “photo analysis” I heard today from a friend in the Army currently serving in Iraq:

“The Soldier in the photo appears to be wearing on his upper body a
bulky garment with a high collar, probably an Interceptor vest capable
of stopping an AK-47 round, whereas Ms. Miller’s loose fitting blouse
indicates that she is not.

Not a fan of Ms. Miller either, as she was a willing participant in
the spin that got us where we are, though certainly not to the extent
that New Republic was. Wonder if Mr. Foer would volunteer for an
assignment out here these days?”

(image: unattributed source.  “Judy Miller Wears Combat Boots.” The Plank.  10.24.05.  Note: photo also obtained independently by The Huffington Post — no link information available.)

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Michael Shaw
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