My Three Hours Hiking Among the Clustered Aspens With Judy Miller

I now understand how you can suddenly “discover” important documents you had completely forgotten even existed. It happened to me late last night as I was working in the newsroom of the Los Angeles bureau of the Huffington Post. There, in my desk, I found a photograph of Judy Miller and me hiking in Aspen.


Behind us are the famous aspen trees. Surrounding us are other sources -- I mean, hikers -- whose names I cannot, for the life of me, recall.

And then it all -- except for those darn names -- came back to me.

It was Sept. 2002, and we were attending the Forstmann Little conference in Aspen. Just before heading out on our hike, we had heard a speech over lunch by Karl Rove, fresh off the creation of the White House Iraq Group, that eight-member unit designed to “market” the war against Saddam. Rove assured the crowd of movers-and-shakers that, if America decided to invade Iraq (he was still playing the “we’re not sure” game -- though barely), we would be greeted as liberators. I cannot recall if he mentioned that flowers would be strewn at our feet. But I do remember that he sang the praises of Rummy’s “new Army” that would be able to win wars with hardly any casualties. Madison Avenue couldn’t have launched a product with any more hype -- or a more accomplished pitchman.

The warm afterglow that Rove had engendered with images of conquering, unscathed armies and destroyed WMD was matched by the balmy, though thin, Aspen air. I particularly recall how flushed and happy Judy was. Not from the hike, mind you, but from her excitement over the Rovian fantasy we had just heard. The thought of Iraq being liberated, casualty-free, and all those aluminum tubes she had just written about on the front page of the New York Times taken out of the hands of Saddam, left her positively giddy. (I’m not sure you can tell from the picture, but that’s not a bottle of water she’s holding -- it’s White House Kool-Aid).

So there we were, out west, in September. Which is right around the time certain tree aficionados believe the aspen trees start turning. In clusters. Because their roots connect them. The Aspen aspens towering over us in the photo, however, clearly hadn’t turned. Maybe they hadn’t gotten the heavy-handed metaphor memo yet.

Pity I can’t recall the other hikers. When grilled about this memory lapse by HuffPost staffers for a second time this morning, I told them, in answer, that at one point during the hike, the woman in the Fortsmann Little cap and dark sunglasses had approached Judy and asked how the Aspen conference had gone. Miller appeared to have no idea who the woman was.

“Judy,” she said. “It’s Scooter Libby”.

Make of that what you will.

Update 1: Photo Contest

Update 2: I'll be discussing Plamegate and Judy Miller with Aaron Brown on CNN at about 7:40 p.m. PT (repeated at 10:40 p.m.).