And we certainly didn’t really know what she was up to…
The Times article on Judy Miller falls somewhat short of being the sort of mea culpa we saw after Jason Blair, and as Arianna notes, significant questions remain unanswered…but neither is it exactly a statement of unqualified support for Judy. In fact, the Times seems to go out of its way to distance itself from its one-time star reporter:
But Mr. Sulzberger and the paper’s executive editor, Bill Keller, knew few details about Ms. Miller’s conversations with her confidential source other than his name. They did not review Ms. Miller’s notes. Mr. Keller said he learned about the “Valerie Flame” notation only this month. Mr. Sulzberger was told about it by Times reporters on Thursday.
Interviews show that the paper’s leaders, in taking what they considered to be a principled stand, ultimately left the major decisions in the case up to Ms. Miller, an intrepid reporter whom editors found hard to control.
* * *
Ms. Miller had written a string of articles before the war – often based on the accounts of Bush administration officials and Iraqi defectors – strongly suggesting that Saddam Hussein was developing these weapons of mass destruction.
When no evidence of them was found, her reporting, along with that of some other journalists, came under fire. She was accused of writing articles that helped the Bush administration make its case for war.
“I told her there was unease, discomfort, unhappiness over some of the coverage,” said Roger Cohen, who was the foreign editor at the time. “There was concern that she’d been convinced in an unwarranted way, a way that was not holding up, of the possible existence of W.M.D.”
* * *
Within a few weeks, in one of his first personnel moves, Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues. Even so, Mr. Keller said, “she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm.”
* * *
Douglas Frantz, who succeeded Mr. Engelberg as the investigative editor, said that Ms. Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok.”
“I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ” said Mr. Frantz, who was recently appointed managing editor at The Los Angeles Times. “And she said, ‘I can do whatever I want.’ ”
Ms. Miller said she remembered the remark only vaguely but must have meant it as a joke, adding, “I have strong elbows, but I’m not a dope.”
* * *
It was in these early days that Mr. Keller and Mr. Sulzberger learned Mr. Libby’s identity. Neither man asked Ms. Miller detailed questions about her conversations with him.
Both said they viewed the case as a matter of principle, which made the particulars less important. “I didn’t interrogate her about the details of the interview,” Mr. Keller said. “I didn’t ask to see her notes. And I really didn’t feel the need to do that.”
Still, Mr. Keller said the case was not ideal: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage.”
* * *
Mr. Sulzberger said he did not personally write the editorials, but regularly urged Ms. Collins to devote space to them. After Ms. Miller was jailed, an editorial acknowledged that “this is far from an ideal case,” before saying, “If Ms. Miller testifies, it may be immeasurably harder in the future to persuade a frightened government employee to talk about malfeasance in high places.”
* * *
At a gathering in the newsroom, she made a speech claiming victories for press freedom. Her colleagues responded with restrained applause, seemingly as mystified by the outcome of her case as the public.
* * *
The Times incurred millions of dollars in legal fees in Ms. Miller’s case. It limited its own ability to cover aspects of one of the biggest scandals of the day. Even as the paper asked for the public’s support, it was unable to answer its questions.
I think this is really two articles–the article the editors wanted written, assuring readers that Judy Miller was a loose cannon and nothing she did should reflect poorly on the journalistic integrity of the Times…and the article that the rank and file wanted to see, in which some truths about this inexplicably privileged idiot of a co-worker were made public. I suspect the writers got as much of the latter in as they could, working within the institutional constraints of the Times, and probably more than they would have if the newsroom weren’t on the verge of mutiny.