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October 25, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New York Times Employees Rend Each Others' Flesh! Department)

Not much friendly laptop-carrying going on at the New York Times these days, is there?

Bill Keller, June 7, 2004:

Judith Miller's WMD reporting - New York Times war reporting - Hunt for WMD: "Judy is a smart, relentless, incredibly well-sourced, and fearless reporter," says Keller. "It's a little galling to watch her pursued by some of these armchair media ethicists who have never ventured into a war zone or earned the right to carry Judy's laptop."

Bill Keller today:

I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed... I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing.... I missed what should have been significant alarm bells.... 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.... [I]f 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...

Judith Miller today:

The Corner on National Review Online: Judith Miller reponds to Byron Calame:

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...

Byron Calame today:

The Miller Mess: Lingering Issues Among the Answers - New York Times: By BYRON CALAME: [T]he journalistic practices of Ms. Miller and Times editors were more flawed than I had feared.... [T]he tendency by top editors to move cautiously to correct problems about prewar coverage.... journalistic shortcuts taken by Ms. Miller... the deferential treatment of Ms. Miller by editors....

Ms. Miller... 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... inaccurate.... 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... revelation of the journalistic shortcuts that Ms. Miller seems comfortable taking.... 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.... 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."...

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.... 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.

Posted by DeLong at October 25, 2005 06:45 PM