I expected an apology from the editor and the publisher of The New York Times on Sunday.
But I didn’t get it, and neither did you.
It’s been more than a week now since the Times began to air out Judith Miller’s dirty laundry.
To its credit, last Sunday, October 16, it ran a long investigative piece on what went wrong (though the story never appeared in the edition I read in Wisconsin since Miller missed her deadline on the early run).
And to his credit, Bill Keller, the editor of The Times, expressed his regrets to his colleagues at the newspaper for mishandling the Miller case, and the Times ran a news story on that last week.
Maureen Dowd wielded her usual rapier style on Saturday, and the Times’s public editor, Byron Calame, also made some good points this Sunday.
But why haven’t Keller and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. apologized directly to the readers in an editorial?
After all, the Times wrote about 15 editorials championing Judith Miller as a paragon of press freedom when she decided to go to jail.
But as it came out that Judith Miller had not played straight with her editors, Keller and Sulzberger have managed not to say word one on their editorial page.
In the lead up to the war in Iraq, the Times let Judith Miller peddle five of its six inaccurate articles about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and when it apologized for that, it didn’t have the courage or the sense of journalistic responsibility to cite Miller by name. (By contrast, Jayson Blair, who had committed much less momentous blunders, got ridden out on a rail.)
Now the Times has discovered that she was not straight with the paper on her involvement in this story. Keller said Miller “seems to have misled” the paper’s Washington bureau chief, Philip Taubman, when she denied having been told by White House officials about Plame. Miller said, “I did not mislead him.”
Miller told the Times that she had “made a strong recommendation to my editor” to write a piece on Wilson or his wife, but her editor at the time, Jill Abramson, denies that.
Even while the Times was getting its story ready for publication in the October 16 edition, “Miller generally would not discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written account of her grand jury testimony, or allow reporters to review her notes,” the Times story noted.
The Times disclosed that Miller had been in contact with Libby about Wilson a month before Robert Novak’s story broke. According to other news accounts, Libby was feverishly attempting to discredit Wilson. But Miller called him “a good-faith source.” Miller also agreed at one point to describe Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of the Vice President’s chief of staff.
Even worse, the Times story and Miller’s account reveal details of her grand jury testimony that suggest she provided convenient cover for Libby.
For instance, Miller had written the name “Valerie Flame” in the same notebook as her conversation with Libby, but she told the grand jury that Libby hadn’t given her that name or Plame’s real name. And then she said she “simply could not recall” who gave her that name.
For a scoop this big, selective amnesia strains credulity.
In her account of her testimony, Miller wrote: “My notes do not show that Mr. Libby identified Mr. Wilson’s wife by name. Nor do they show that he described Valerie Wilson as a covert agent or ‘operative.’ “
And when she acknowledged that Libby told her that Wilson’s “wife works at Winpac,” a weapons unit at the CIA, she again hedged for Scooter in front of the grand jury: “I said I couldn’t be certain whether I had know Ms. Plame’s identity before this meeting, and I had no clear memory of the context of our conversation that resulted in this notation,” Miller wrote. “But I told the grand jury that I believed that this was the first time I had heard that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked for Winpac. In fact, I told the grand jury that when Mr. Libby indicated that Ms. Plame worked for Winpac, I assumed that she worked as an analyst, not as an undercover operative.”
When Miller talked by phone with Libby on July 12, she wrote: “In my notebook I had written the words ‘Victoria Wilson’ with a box around it, another apparent reference to Ms. Plame, who is also known as Valerie Wilson. I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own.”
While at the end of her account, Miller suggests that Libby, in writing her a letter in jail, may have been trying to affect her testimony, by and large, the account she gave Patrick Fitzgerald provided Libby with plenty of wiggle room.
The handling of the Miller affair by the Times has been disgraceful.
By the editors’ own accounts, she exercised unusual freedom, even after being reprimanded. And in the midst of this controversy, she received little scrutiny from the editor or the publisher of the paper.
Combined with her egregious reporting in the lead up to the war, Miller’s behavior in the Libby-Wilson affair raises the serious question of whether she was acting as a journalist all along or whether she was more of a partisan, peddling the neocon cause to the end.
The Times got played by Judith Miller, and it owes all of us an apology as readers.
It also, by the way, owes the families of soldiers who died in the Iraq War an apology, too.
* For the record: Judith Miller was the Washington Correspondent of The Progressive from December 1973 to August 1977. During that time, she wrote many articles on a variety of subjects, including the environment, the Middle East, and Chile. In her November 1974 cover story, “Criminal Negligence: Congress, Chile, and the CIA,” she denounced what she called a White House-inspired coverup. She left The Progressive to work in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. “We congratulate the Times on its good judgment,” wrote Erwin Knoll, then the editor of The Progressive.
* Doubly for the record: On July 6, I defended The New York Times and Judith Miller for choosing to not disclose her source.
I wrote: “Judith Miller was collecting information legally, and she was honoring her word to her source. Neither should be a criminal offense.”
And I wrote: “If, in principle, journalists should have the right to protect their sources, then we must defend this principle even when we despise both the journalist and the source.”
I stand by both of those comments.
But I also praised Miller for her courage and for standing on principle. Not so sure about that anymore.
She may have been trying to cover for Libby, and she may have been trying to pull a Martha Stewart and generate sympathy for herself after falling from grace.
The most troubling thing about the Judith Miller affair is the possibility, as Arianna Huffington warned all along, that Miller might have been acting as some sort of double agent for the Cheneyiacs. It was incumbent upon the editors of the Times to figure that out before going to the mat for Miller and turning her into a hero. I, too, could have tried to assess that possibility more thoroughly, and for that, I apologize.
Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983.
© 2005 The Progressive