Now Cough

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fit to Print

The Miller Morass

New York Times reporter Judith Miller is out of jail and talking about why she spent months in jail to protect vice presidential aide Scooter Libby, her confidential source.

There is a lot to the story and despite lengthy coverage, finally, in the paper (registration required), many questions remain.

  • Was her lengthy jail term the result of miscommunication between her lawyers and Scooter Libby? It sure seems that way. Libby and his attorney say they granted her a waiver from confidentiality as long as a year ago. For many reasons, Miller said how that was communicated and their words lead her to believe the waiver was coerced or, at the least, not genuine. She was there, I wasn't, but based on how this has been reported that conclusion seems strained.

  • Judy Miller's notes make two references to 'Valerie Flame" and "Victoria Wilson," clearly referring incorrectly to Valerie Plame, nee Wilson. Did those names come from Libby? Miller is fuzzy on this and she believes she first heard her name from another unnamed source. But it seems definite that she and Libby discussed Valerie Plame, he identified her as a CIA employee but not, apparently, as an undercover CIA agent which she was. Columnist Robert Novak is the one who blew Plame's cover and that's what has set off this whole imbroglio.

  • Why did The New York Times give Miller such hands-off treatment as a reporter? Could this explain what is at the root of her admittedly wrong reporting ("W.M.D. - I got it totally wrong," she said. "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.") I'm left with the distinct impression that the NYT has learned nothing from the Jason Blair case. I have worked in newsrooms with very aggressive and intimidating reporters and they are precisely the people who need strong editors because they tend to lose perspective. Executive editor Bill Keller sounds in the NYT coverage of the Miller case like a weak top editor; not able to be really tough even with star performers.

  • Why didn't the NYT report on a) the Valerie Plame issues and the possible ties to Scooter Libby and b) allegations from the administration that they felt the CIA was trying to paint itself as the good guy as it became obvious pre-war intelligence was all wrong? Yes, it seems clear that getting into these stories could put Miller's case in a bad light. Miller says she had argued for such coverage by an editor told her the paper would not pursue such stories. No editors at the NYT have owned up to that allegation. I still think that Miller has ties with the CIA worth examining. The stories in the NYT this weekend begin to show the complex interweaving of sources, the news media and conflicting interests at the highest levels of publishing and government. In those murky waters, loyalties and trust and self interest get all mixed up. Who was Judy loyal to? Why did now-UN ambassador John Bolton visit her in jail?

  • I am glad Judy Miller is out and glad the grand jury is moving toward a decision. I am thrilled Karl Rove, the master manipulator of people and innuendo and practitioner of personal destruction, is feeling the heat. But the NYT needs to stay on the Miller story and do more to explain the relationship of sources to reporters. What is at stake here is not just the credibility of the badly damaged is the credibility of all professional journalists. It is time to come clean about how Washington coverage works.


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