Sunday, October 16, 2005


She is not a zero, either, because that would imply that she has no power and can do no harm. The writer for The New York Times apparently has plenty of influence, and with it she has done much damage to American journalism.

Her first-person piece in the Times is too long, and too short on crucial details. Its hard-news value comes in one graf:
During my testimony on Sept. 30 and Oct. 12, the special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, asked me whether Mr. Libby had shared classified information with me during our several encounters before Mr. Novak's article. He also asked whether I thought Mr. Libby had tried to shape my testimony through a letter he sent to me in jail last month. And Mr. Fitzgerald asked whether Mr. Cheney had known what his chief aide was doing and saying.
Fitzgerald is gunning for leakers who spilled classified information -- not just the name of a CIA operative. And he wants to know if the vice president was involved. Fascinating.

The real news story from the Times doesn't come from Miller, but from her colleagues Don Van Natta, Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford J. Levy.

The news they break? Miller is no hero, and her "cause" ended in failure.

She went to jail to protect a source who'd already freed himself from the Land of Unnamed Sources. She refused to testify before a grand jury because "a promise of confidentiality once made must be respected, or the journalist will lose all credibility and the public will, in the end, suffer."

After less than three months in jail, Miller lost respect for her promise of confidentiality. But she blames her change of heart on others: "I owed it to myself to see whether or not [Scooter] Libby had had a change of heart, the special prosecutor had had a change of heart," she told the Times.

Neither one did, not really, but Miller agreed to testify anyway -- not once, but twice.

By defying the special prosecutor and the grand jury, Miller made it harder for the Times to cover a story it should have owned. Helping her screw the newsroom: Executive Editor Bill Keller, who amazingly admitted that while he knew Scooter Libby was the Secret Source, he never asked Miller about her conversations with Libby.

Keller's other big sin was in waving off reporters trying to cover a Big Story:
In July, Richard W. Stevenson and other reporters in the Washington bureau wrote an article about the role of Mr. Cheney's senior aides, including Mr. Libby, in the leak case. The article, which did not disclose that Mr. Libby was Ms. Miller's source, was not published.

Mr. Stevenson said he was told by his editors that the article did not break enough new ground. "It was taken pretty clearly among us as a signal that we were cutting too close to the bone, that we were getting into an area that could complicate Judy's situation," he said.

In August, Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, two other Washington reporters, sent a memo to the Washington bureau chief, Mr. Taubman, listing ideas for coverage of the case. Mr. Taubman said Mr. Keller did not want them pursued because of the risk of provoking Mr. Fitzgerald or exposing Mr. Libby while Ms. Miller was in jail.:
During Watergate, Richard Nixon's chief henchman, John Mitchell, once threatened the breasts of the Washington Post's publisher. She didn't flinch. If Ben Bradlee was dead he would be spinning in his grave over the Times' weakness.

What else to call it?

•Judith Miller was yanked off stories involving "Iraq and weapons issues" because of her pre-war stories about Iraq's mighty and deadly (and, as it turned out, phantom) weapons stockpiles. She admits she "got it totally wrong" but employs a Bushian excuse: "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them - we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could."

•Despite being banned from covering "Iraq and weapons issues," Miller was doing just that when she interviewed Scooter Libby for a story on the search for missing weapons in Iraq.

•Miller says she "made a strong recommendation to my editor" for a story about Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, and how administration officials were talking smack about the diplomat. Miller says she "was told no" by an editor she would not name. The Washington bureau chief says she doesn't know what Miller's talking about.

•Miller's editors asked her if White House officials were trying to disclose Plame's identity. Miller denied it, and now says she had "not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information." Breakfast chitchat and phone calls with a bunch of reporters, sure. But a concerted effort? No way.

On Friday, Miller said she has "everything to be proud of and nothing to apologize for." This week she picks up a First Amendment award from the Society of Professional Journalists. It would be wrong to say she earned it.

She says she'll take some time away from the newspaper and might write a book. She says she wants to write about "the same thing I've always covered -- threats to our country." An autobiography, then.

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