.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Fat Steve's Archives

| Saturday, October 22, 2005

Times v. Miller: Primary Sources

The Public Editor's Web Journal:

bcalame - 4:45 PM ET October 13, 2005 (#17 of 19)

Now Is the Time

        The lifting of the contempt order against Judith Miller of The New York Times in connection with the Valerie Wilson leak investigation leaves no reason for the paper to avoid providing a full explanation of the situation.  Now.

        As public editor, I have been asking some basic questions of the key players at The Times since July 12.  But they declined to fully respond to my fundamental questions because, they said, of the legal entanglements of Ms. Miller and the paper.  With Ms. Miller in jail and the legal situation unclear, I felt it would be unfair to publicly castigate them for their caution.

        At the same time, I decided my lack of information made it impossible to fairly evaluate for readers Ms. Miller’s refusal to identify confidential sources and how The Times was handling the matter.  The absence of complete answers to my fundamental questions also prevented me from publicly rising to Ms. Miller’s defense, despite the initial burst of First Amendment fervor among some journalists supporting her.

        But legal concerns should no longer rule the roost.

        Now I look forward to assessing the full explanation that Bill Keller, the executive editor, has promised the paper will deliver to readers under the supervision of Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor.  While a multitude of issues need to be addressed, I certainly will expect The Times’s explanation to address these fundamental questions that I first posed to the key players at the paper in July:
--Was Ms. Miller’s contact with the source she is protecting initiated and conducted in genuine pursuit of a news article for Times readers?
--Why didn’t she write an article?
--What kinds of notes are there and who has them?
--Why wasn’t she exploring a voluntary waiver from the source?
An important and obvious issue that has arisen in recent days, of course, is Ms. Miller’s seemingly belated discovery of notes from a June 2003 conversation that she had with I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.  Several hours after she testified before the grand jury yesterday about the notes, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., lifted the contempt finding that had caused her to spend 85 days in jail.

        I write this expecting The Times will publish its explanation as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, even if it were published Friday or Saturday, deadlines wouldn’t allow me to assess The Times’s explanation in the public editor’s column space this Sunday.  I must submit my column by Friday morning; the space Sunday will be devoted to reader letters about my two previous columns, as regularly scheduled.

        So, assuming The Times publishes its explanation sometime in the next few days, I will be assessing it in my column on Sunday, Oct. 23.  I will need time to do some reporting.  A representative of Ms. Miller has indicated that she will talk to me at some point, and I would expect to have access to both Mr. Keller and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, if necessary.
____________________

Keller's Memo to the Staff:

A Message from Bill Keller:
Colleagues,

        As you can imagine, I've done a lot of thinking -- and a lot of listening -- on the subject of what I should have done differently in handling our reporter's entanglement in the White House leak investigation.  Jill and John and I have talked a great deal among ourselves and with many of you, and while this is a discussion that will continue, we thought it would be worth taking a first cut at the lessons we have learned.

        Aside from a number of occasions when I wish I had chosen my words more carefully, we've come up with a few points at which we wish we had made different decisions.  These are instances, when viewed with the clarity of hindsight, where the mistakes carry lessons beyond the peculiar circumstances of this case.

        I wish we had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD as soon as I became executive editor.  At the time, we thought we had compelling reasons for kicking the issue down the road.  The paper had just been through a major trauma, the Jayson Blair episode, and needed to regain its equilibrium.  It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors.  I was trying to get my arms around a huge new job, appoint my team, get the paper fully back to normal, and I feared the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction.

        So it was a year before we got around to really dealing with the controversy.  At that point, we published a long editors' note acknowledging the prewar journalistic lapses, and -- to my mind, at least as important - - we intensified aggressive reporting aimed at exposing the way bad or manipulated intelligence had fed the drive to war.  (I'm thinking of our excellent investigation of those infamous aluminum tubes, the report on how the Iraqi National Congress recruited exiles to promote Saddam's WMD threat, our close look at the military's war-planning intelligence! , and th e dissection, one year later, of Colin Powell's U.N. case for the war, among other examples.  The fact is sometimes overlooked that a lot of the best reporting on how this intel fiasco came about appeared in the NYT.)

        By waiting a year to own up to our mistakes, we allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester.  Worse, we fear, we fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers.  If we had lanced the WMD boil earlier, we might have damped any suspicion that THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of a reporter above the duty to its readers.

        I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the leak investigation, I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of my own.  It is a natural and proper instinct to defend reporters when the government seeks to interfere in our work.  And under other circumstances it might have been fine to entrust the details -- the substance of the confidential interviews, the notes -- to lawyers who would be handling the case.  But in this case I missed what should have been significant alarm bells.  Until Fitzgerald came after her, I didn't know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign.  I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel, a year after the fact.  (In November of 2003 Phil Taubman tried to ascertain whether any of our correspondents had been offered similar leaks.  As we reported last Sunday, Judy seems to have misled Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement.) This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper.

        In the end, I'm pretty sure I would have concluded that we had to fight this case in court.  For one thing, we were facing an insidious new menace in these blanket waivers, ostensibly voluntary, that Administration officials had been compelled to sign.! But if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises.

        Dick Stevenson has expressed the larger lesson here in an e-mail that strikes me as just right: "I think there is, or should be, a contract between the paper and its reporters.  The contract holds that the paper will go to the mat to back them up institutionally -- but only to the degree that the reporter has lived up to his or her end of the bargain, specifically to have conducted him or herself in a way consistent with our legal, ethical and journalistic standards, to have been open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like, and generally to deserve having the reputations of all of us put behind him or her.  In that way, everybody knows going into a battle exactly what the situation is, what we're fighting for, the degree to which the facts might counsel compromise or not, and the degree to which our collective credibility should be put on the line."

        I've heard similar sentiments from a number of reporters in the aftermath of this case.

        There is another important issue surfaced by this case: how we deal with the inherent conflict of writing about ourselves.  This paper (and, indeed, this business) has had way too much experience of that over the past few years.  Almost everyone we've heard from on the staff appreciates that once we had agreed as an institution to defend Judy's source, it would have been wrong to expose her source in the paper.  Even if our reporters had learned that information through their own enterprise, our publication of it would have been seen by many readers as authoritative -- as outing Judy's source in a backhanded way.  Yet it is excruciating to withhold information of value to our readers, especially when rival publications are unconstrained.  I don't yet see a clear-cut ! answer t o this dilemma, but we've received some thoughtful suggestions from the staff, and it's one of the problems that we'll be wrestling with in the coming weeks.

Best, Bill

____________________

New York Times story on the memo:

October 22, 2005
Times Editor Expresses Regrets Over Handling of Leak Case
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE

        Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, told the newspaper's staff yesterday that he had several regrets over his handling of Judith Miller, the Times reporter who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury in the C.I.A. leak case.

        In a memorandum sent to the staff while he was traveling overseas, Mr. Keller said he wished he had "sat her down for a thorough debriefing" after Ms. Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the investigation into the leaking of the name of a C.I.A. operative.

        In his first direct criticism of Ms. Miller, Mr. Keller said she "seems to have misled" the newspaper's Washington bureau chief, Philip Taubman, when she was asked by Mr. Taubman if she was one of at least six Washington journalists who had reportedly been told that Valerie Plame was a C.I.A. operative.

        And, he wrote, had he known of her "entanglement" with I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, he might have been more willing to explore compromises with the prosecutor investigating the case.

        Mr. Keller also said he had missed "what should have been significant alarm bells" about Ms. Miller's involvement in the C.I.A. leak case.  One, he wrote, was that he did not know "Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign."  Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who criticized the Iraq war, is married to Ms. Plame.

        Ms. Miller said in an interview that Mr. Keller's statements were "seriously inaccurate."  She also provided The Times with a copy of a memorandum she had sent to Mr. Keller in response.

        "I certainly never meant to mislead Phil, nor did I mislead him," she wrote to Mr. Keller, referring to Mr. Taubman.

        She wrote that as she had said in an account in The Times last Sunday, she had discussed Mr. Wilson and his wife with government officials, but "I was unaware that there was a deliberate, concerted disinformation campaign to discredit Wilson and that if there had been, I did not think I was a target of it."

        She added, "As for your reference to my 'entanglement' with Mr. Libby, I had no personal, social, or other relationship with him except as a source."

        Ms. Miller, 57, is taking time off from the newspaper after serving time in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the leak of Ms. Plame's name.  Ms. Miller was released from jail after agreeing to testify and turn over her notes to the special prosecutor.

        The prosecutor's investigation, which has focused on White House officials, could come to a conclusion next week, possibly with criminal charges.

        In his memorandum, Mr. Keller said he regretted waiting a year before confronting problems with Ms. Miller's reporting on unconventional weapons in Iraq.  He said he had delayed confronting those problems, because the newspaper had just been through the traumatic Jayson Blair episode, in which a Times reporter was found to have fabricated articles.  That led to the departure of Howell Raines, the executive editor, and Gerald Boyd, the managing editor.

        "It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors," Mr. Keller wrote.  But by waiting more than a year, he acknowledged, "we allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester.

        "Worse, we fear, we fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers," he wrote.

____________________

Calame's Column on the situation:


The Public Editor
The Miller Mess: Lingering Issues Among the Answers

By BYRON CALAME
Published: October 23, 2005

        THE good news is that the bad news didn't stop The New York Times from publishing a lengthy front-page article last Sunday about the issues facing Judith Miller and the paper, or from pushing Ms. Miller to give readers a first-person account of her grand jury testimony.

        The details laid out in the commendable 6,200-word article by a special team of reporters and editors led by the paper's deputy managing editor answered most of my fundamental questions.  At issue, of course, was Ms. Miller's refusal to divulge her confidential sources to the grand jury investigating who had leaked the identity of a C.I.A. undercover operative.  But the article and Ms. Miller's account also uncovered new information that suggested the journalistic practices of Ms. Miller and Times editors were more flawed than I had feared.

        The Times must now face up to three major concerns raised by the leak investigation: First, the tendency by top editors to move cautiously to correct problems about prewar coverage.  Second, the journalistic shortcuts taken by Ms. Miller.  And third, the deferential treatment of Ms. Miller by editors who failed to dig into problems before they became a mess.

        To begin considering the handling of Ms. Miller and this whole episode, it is necessary to step back more than two years.  Ms. Miller may still be best known for her role in a series of Times articles in 2002 and 2003 that strongly suggested Saddam Hussein already had or was acquiring an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.  Howell Raines was then the executive editor of The Times, and several articles about weapons of mass destruction were displayed prominently in the paper.  Many of those articles turned out to be inaccurate.

        By the spring of 2003, the newsroom was overwhelmed by the Jayson Blair fiasco, and Mr. Raines and the managing editor, Gerald Boyd, left the paper.  When Bill Keller became executive editor on July 30, 2003, he focused on dealing with the trauma of the Blair scandal.  Nevertheless, with questions growing about weapons in Iraq, he told Ms. Miller she could no longer cover those issues.  But it took until May 2004 - more than a year after the war started and about a year after it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - before The Times acknowledged in an editors' note that the coverage was flawed.  Mr. Keller then directed her to stay away from all national security issues.

        Mr. Keller acknowledged to me last week that his tendency to act slowly in response to criticisms about prewar coverage might have contributed to the dismay among readers and in the newsroom with the way The Times dealt with protecting Ms. Miller's confidential sources in the leak investigation.

        "By waiting a year to own up to our mistakes," Mr. Keller wrote Wednesday in response to questions I had asked, "I allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester.  Worse, I fear I fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers.  If I had lanced the W.M.D. boil earlier, I suspect our critics - at least the honest ones - might have been less inclined to suspect that, THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of the reporter above the duty to its readers."

        Mr. Keller is right.  The paper should have addressed the problems of the coverage sooner.  It is the duty of the paper to be straight with its readers, and whatever the management reason was for not doing so, the readers didn't get a fair shake.

        The most disturbing aspect of the Oct. 16 retrospective was its revelation of the journalistic shortcuts that Ms. Miller seems comfortable taking.

        One ethical problem emerged when Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, asked Ms. Miller if she had pursued an article about Valerie Plame, the C.I.A. operative, or her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV.  Ms. Miller said in an interview for the retrospective that she "made a strong recommendation to my editor" that a story be pursued.  "I was told no."

        But Jill Abramson, now a managing editor and the Washington bureau chief in 2003, would have known about such a request.  Ms. Abramson, to whom Ms. Miller reported, strongly asserted to me that Ms. Miller never asked to pursue an article about the operative.  Ms. Abramson said that she did not recall Ms. Miller ever mentioning the confidential conversations she had with I. Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, who appears to be in the middle of the leak investigation.  When I asked her, Ms. Miller declined to identify the editor she dealt with.

        If Ms. Abramson is to be believed, and I do believe her, this raises clear issues of trust and credibility.  It also means that because Ms. Miller didn't let an editor know what she knew, Times readers were deprived of a potentially exclusive look into an apparent administration effort to undercut Mr. Wilson and other critics of the Iraq war.

        The negotiation of an attribution for a conversation that Ms. Miller had with Mr. Libby is also bothersome.  She mentioned in her first-person account last Sunday that, to get Mr. Libby to give her certain information about the Plame situation, she had agreed to identify him as "a former Hill staffer" rather than the usual "senior administration official." She went on: "I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill."

        When I talked to Ms. Miller, she dismissed concern about her agreement.  She intended to get the information confirmed elsewhere before using it, she said, and would never have allowed Mr. Libby to be identified in print that way.

        ANOTHER troubling ethical issue that I haven't yet been able to nail down is whether Ms. Miller holds a government security clearance - something that could restrict her ability to share with editors the information she gathers.  During the Iraq war, Ms. Miller said in her personal account, "The Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment 'embedded' with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons."

        But a Times article Thursday reported that Ms. Miller had said what she had signed was a so-called nondisclosure form, with some modifications.  She indicated that under the conditions set by the commander of the unit she accompanied in Iraq, she had been allowed to discuss her most secret reporting only with Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd.

        The Times needs to review Ms. Miller's journalistic practices as soon as possible, especially because she disputes some accounts of her conduct that have come to light since the leak investigation began.  Since Ms. Miller did the Plame-leak reporting, the paper has made a significant effort to be as upfront as possible with readers about anonymous sources.  An update of the rules for the granting of anonymity in The Times's ethics guidelines by Allan M. Siegal, the standards editor, may also be a good idea.

        The apparent deference to Ms. Miller by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, and top editors of The Times, going back several years, needs to be addressed more openly, especially in view of the ethics issues that have come to light.

        The freedom Ms. Miller was given to shape the legal strategy may have stemmed in part from the failure of top editors to dig into the case earlier in the battle.

        Last Sunday's article raised this issue: "This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk," Mr. Sulzberger said.  When I asked him this week if the integrity of The Times and the First Amendment weren't also at risk, he stressed that his assertion had to be read in the proper context.  He referred me to his comments in a separate interview with The Times, which weren't published: "There were other hands on the wheel as well.  And obviously if we felt that the situation didn't warrant the kind of support we gave her, we would have interceded."

        Mr. Sulzberger, inclined by instinct and Times tradition to protect any reporter's confidential sources, wasn't doing anything special in backing Ms. Miller on this journalistic principle.  But in an interview for the retrospective last Sunday, Ms. Miller acknowledged Mr. Sulzberger's special support in this case.  "He galvanized the editors, the senior editorial staff.  ... He metaphorically and literally put his arm around me," she said.

        Neither Mr. Keller nor the publisher had done much digging into Ms. Miller's contacts with any of her confidential sources about Ms. Plame before the subpoena arrived on Aug. 12, 2004.  Neither had reviewed her notes, for instance.  Mr. Keller also didn't look into whether Ms. Miller had proposed a story about the Plame leak to an editor.

        "I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the leak investigation, I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of my own," he wrote to me, adding later, "If I had known the details of Judy's engagement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense."

        What does the future hold for Ms. Miller?  She told me Thursday that she hopes to return to the paper after taking some time off.  Mr. Sulzberger offered this measured response: "She and I have acknowledged that there are new limits on what she can do next." It seems to me that whatever the limits put on her, the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter.


The public editor serves as the readers' representative. His opinions and conclusions are his own. His column appears at least twice monthly in this section.

____________________

The Public Editor's Web Journal:

bcalame - 7:54 PM ET October 22, 2005 (#18 of 19)

Bill Keller on Lessons Learned And a Judith Miller Response

        In preparing the Oct. 23 public editor column about the battle to protect Judith Miller's confidential sources in the Plame leak investigation, I had asked Bill Keller, the executive editor, if he would offer his thoughts on what he would do differently if faced with the same situation again.  He responded Wednesday with the e-mail message below, and disseminated much the same message to The Times's staff on Friday.  Ms. Miller has responded to Mr. Keller’s note, and her e-mail message follows his here:

-------------
Barney,

        As you can imagine I've done a lot of thinking -- and a lot of listening -- on the subject of what I should have done differently.  Aside from a number of occasions when I wish I had kept my mouth shut or at least chosen my words more carefully, I've come up with three points at which I wish I had made different decisions.  These are places where the lessons of my mistakes extend beyond this peculiar case.  I'll lay them out in greater detail than you can use in your column.  If you decide to post our exchanges on the Website, perhaps this will help readers understand that we hope to learn from this experience.  This, of course, is all with the clarity of hindsight.

        First, I wish I had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD first thing upon becoming executive editor.  At the time, I thought I had compelling reasons for kicking the issue down the road.  The paper had just been through a major trauma, the Jason Blair episode, and needed to regain its equilibrium.  It felt somehow unsavory to begin my tenure by attacking the previous regime.  I was trying to get my arms around a huge new job, appoint my team, get the paper fully back to normal, and I feared the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction.  So it was a year before we got around to really dealing with the controversy.  At that point we published that long editor's note acknowledging the pre-war journalistic lapses, and -- to my mind at least as important -- launched a body of aggressive reporting aimed at exposing how bad or manipulated intelligence had fed the drive to war.  (I'm thinking of our excellent investigation of how those infamous aluminum tubes became a supposed smoking gun, the report on how the Iraqi National Congress recruited exiles to promote the notion of Saddam's WMD threat, our close look at the military's war-planning intelligence, and several other pieces.  Critics sometimes overlook the fact that lot of the best reporting on how this intel fiasco transpired appeared in the NYT.) By waiting a year to own up to our mistakes, I allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester.  Worse, I fear I fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers.  If I had lanced the WMD boil earlier, I suspect our critics -- at least the honest ones -- might have been less inclined to suspect that, THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of a reporter above the duty to its readers.

        Second, I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the leak investigation I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of my own.  It is a natural and proper instinct to defend reporters when the government seeks to interfere in our work.  And under other circumstances it might have been fine to entrust the details -- the substance of the confidential interviews, the notes -- to lawyers who would be handling to case.  But in this case I missed what should have been significant alarm bells.  Until Fitzgerald came after her, I didn't know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign.  I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel, a year after the fact.  (After the initial leak to Robert Novak in 2003, we asked the Washington Bureau to ask our correspondents whether any of them had been offered similar leaks.  As we reported last Sunday, Judy seems to have misled Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement.) This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper.

        In the end, I'm pretty sure I would have concluded that we had to fight this case in court.  For one thing, we were facing an insidious new menace in these ostensibly voluntary blanket waivers Administration officials were compelled to sign.  But if I had known the details of Judy's engagement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and I'd have been better equipped for the third turning point, below.  Dick Stevenson, one of our White House correspondents, has expressed the larger lesson here in an e-mail that strikes me as just right:"I think there is, or should be, a contract between the paper and its reporters.  The contract holds that the paper will go to the mat to back them up institutionally -- but only to the degree that the reporter has lived up to his or her end of the bargain, specifically to have conducted him or herself in a way consistent with our legal, ethical and journalistic standards, to have been open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like, and generally to deserve having the reputations of all of us put behind him or her.  In that way, everybody knows going in to a battle exactly what the situation is, what we're fighting for, the degree to which the facts might counsel compromise or not, and the degree to which our collective credibility should be put on the line." I've heard similar sentiments from a number of reporters in the aftermath of this case, and I think this is a place where I let the paper down.

        Third, when the appeals court (including one judge regarded as a friend of press freedom) unanimously rejected our case and it was clear we were going to lose in the Supreme Court, I wish I had tried to throw my weight behind a search for compromise.  At the time, the fact that The Washington Post -- in particular Walter Pincus, an investigative reporter with a strong reputation for protecting his sources -- managed to negotiate a deal to testify -- briefly made me doubt our uncompromising course.  But frankly by then I was pretty dug in.  My initial instinct to protect a reporter against this kind of intrusion and the pernicious nature of the blanket waivers made me reluctant to back down.  (Moreover, I'd grown a little complacent about the danger.  Throughout most of this case I never really thought it would come to this.  We get subpoenas from time to time, the lawyers fight them, and reporters don't go to jail.) By this time, I was included in a lot of meetings where the legal strategy was discussed, and I suspect if I had pressed for a compromise my view would have been taken seriously.  I didn't.

        There's probably more to be said, but that's enough for now.

Best, Bill

-------------

Bill,

        I wish you had spoken to me before accusing me of misleading Phil Taubman and of being entangled with Libby in your message to the staff.

        Here is what I told Don Van Natta about what I remember telling Phil in the fall of 2003.  I told him, as our story on Sunday reported, that I had discussed Wilson and his wife with government officials.  But I also told him that I was unaware that there was a deliberate, concerted disinformation campaign to discredit Wilson, and that if there had been, I did not think I was a target of it.  After all, Libby and I had talked about many things, as you well know, and he had placed no special emphasis on the Wilson matter.

        A special prosecutor has been investigating the existence of such a campaign for two years.  Since I could be witness at a future trial, I am reluctant to say more on this subject now.

        But I certainly never meant to mislead Phil, nor did I mislead him.

A        s for your reference to my "entanglement" with Mr. Libby, I had no personal, social, or other relationship with him except as a source, one among many to whom I had pledged confidentiality as a reporter for The New York Times.

        I know how important it is for the paper to protect its reputation, but I have my reputation to protect also.

____________________

The Public Editor's Web Journal:
bcalame - 10:40 PM ET October 23, 2005 (#19 of 19)

Miller Response to Column

        Judith Miller sent me the e-mail message below in response to my column in The New York Times today.  In her message, Ms. Miller refers to "answers" she had sent me to questions I posed to her during an interview Thursday.  My column reflected the relevant responses she gave me during our interview, and her e-mail message arrived too late for inclusion in the column.

-----------------

Barney,

        I’m dismayed by your essay today.  You accuse me of taking journalistic “shortcuts” without presenting evidence of what you mean and rely on unsubstantiated innuendo about my reporting.

        While you posted Bill Keller’s sanitized, post-lawyered version of the ugly, inaccurate memo to the staff he circulated Friday, which accused me of “misleading” an editor and being “entangled” with I. Lewis Libby, you declined to post the answers I sent you to six questions that we touched on during our interview Thursday.  Had you done so, readers could have made their own assessment of my conduct in what you headlined as “the Miller mess.”

        You chose to believe Jill Abramson when she asserted that I had never asked her to pursue the tip I had gotten about Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger and his wife’s employment at the C.I.A.  Now I ask you: Why would I – the supposedly pushiest, most competitive reporter on the planet -- not have pushed to pursue a tantalizing tip like this?  Soon after my breakfast meeting with Libby in July, I did so.  I remember asking the editor to let me explore whether what my source had said was true, or whether it was a potential smear of a whistleblower.  I don’t recall naming the source of the tip.  But I specifically remember saying that because Joe Wilson’s op-ed column had appeared in our paper, we had a particular obligation to pursue this.  I never identified the editor to the grand jury or publicly, since it involved internal New York Times decision-making.  But since you did, yes, the editor was Jill Abramson.

        Obviously, Jill and I have different memories of what happened during that turbulent period at the paper.  I did not take that personally, though she never chose to discuss with me our different recollections about my urging her to pursue the story.  Without explanation, however, you said you believed her and raised questions about my “trust and credibility.” That is your right.  But I gave my recollection to the grand jury under oath.

        My second journalistic sin in your eyes was agreeing to Libby’s request to be considered a “former Hill staffer” in his discussion about Wilson.  As you acknowledged, I agreed to that attribution only to hear the information.  As I also stressed, Scooter Libby has never been identified in any of my stories as anything other than a “senior Administration official.”

        The third “troubling” ethical issue you raised – my access to secret information during my embed in Iraq – had been fully clarified by the time you published.  No one doubts that I had access to very sensitive information or that I did work out informal arrangements to limit discussion of sensitive intelligence sources and methods to the most senior Times editors.  Though there was occasionally enormous tension over whether and when I could publish sensitive information, the arrangement ultimately satisfied the senior officers in the brigade hunting for unconventional weapons, the Times editors at the time, and me.  It also led to the publication of my exclusive story that debunked some of my own earlier exclusives on the Pentagon’s claim that it had found mobile germ production units in Iraq.

        I fail to see why I am responsible for my editors’ alleged failure to do some “digging” into my confidential sources and the notebooks.  From the start, the legal team that the Times provided me knew who my source was and had access to my notes.  I never refused to answer questions or provide any information they requested.  No one indicated they had doubts about the stand I took to go to jail.

        Your essay clearly implies that the Times and I did something wrong in waging a battle that we did not choose.  I strongly disagree.  What did I do wrong?  Your essay does not say.  You may disapprove of my earlier reporting on Weapons of Mass Destruction.  But what did the delayed publication of the editor’s note on that reporting have to do with the decision I made over a year later, which the paper fully supported, to protect our confidential sources?  I remain proud of my decision to go to jail rather than reveal the identity of a source to whom I had pledged confidentiality, even if he happened to work for the Bush White House.

        The Times asked me to assume a low profile in this controversy.  I told everyone that I had no intention of airing internal editorial policy disputes and disagreements at the paper, as a matter of principle and loyalty to those who stood by me during this ordeal.  Others have chosen a different path, ironically becoming “confidential sources” themselves.

        You never bothered to mention in your essay my decision to spend 85 days in jail to honor the pledge I made.  I’m saddened that you, like so many others, have blurred the core issue of that stand and I am stunned that you refused to post my answers to issues we had discussed on your web site at the critical moment that Times readers were forming their opinions.

Judith Miller

1 Comments:

  • Finally, the Safelist Submitter you've been waiting for!
    ....this is just the Easiest, Most Professional and Powerful Safelist submitter you will Find Online. CAUTION: Your Ads could have an EXPLOSIVE Response! website traffic . You will be using the MOST sophisticated safelist submitter system ever built!
    So,if you want your ads to be seen by Millions of Opportunity Seekers come visite my website today.

    Thank you and have a great day.

    By Blogger incbizz, at 9:58 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home