Monday, October 17, 2005

The Miller Critique

Farhad Manjoo of (subscription/Day Pass required) provides a concise summary of what kind of damage Judith Miller’s adventures into journalistic purgatory have done for her, the New York Times, the Plame story, and reporting in general.

During the past couple of weeks, the New York Times has been promising to eventually publish a thorough account of its reporter Judith Miller’s run-in with federal prosecutors investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. On Saturday, the paper finally published that report. Unfortunately, the account, along with a personal firsthand account by Miller herself, raises more questions — about Miller, the Times, and about the Bush administration’s attempts to manipulate the press — than it answers.


But many details in the report are mystifying. In particular, it’s unclear why the Times allowed Miller — a reporter whose discredited work on weapons of mass destruction had recently embarrassed the paper — to be put in charge of the Times’ response to investigators looking into the Plame leak. Some revelations are astonishing: Apparently nobody at the newspaper asked to review Miller’s notes in the Plame case before allowing her to defy Fitzgerald, and before the paper’s management made her a high-profile symbol of press freedom in peril.


Beyond the implications for Miller and the paper, the Times’ report provides provocative new hints about what the grand jury investigating the leak of Plame’s identity may be focusing on in the final weeks before it possibly hands down indictments against senior White House officials. The report does not look good for Libby. It indicates that he revealed Plame’s identity to Miller, and, according to her own account, may have attempted to prevent her from telling all she knew about his role in the case to investigators. According to Miller, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor heading the case, asked her several pointed questions about Libby that indicate he may be nearing a decision on an indictment.

Mr. Manjoo’s summary concurs with a lot of people I’ve spoken with about this story and the accounts printed in the Times; there’s a lot of unanswered questions in the stories and it leaves you wondering what they’re not telling you in their account. The mea culpas — the admission that the editors didn’t keep a close rein on the story and didn’t review Ms. Miller’s notes — sounds like either carelessness, which, in light of the Jayson Blair episode is stunning, or they were almost afraid to find out too much lest they be dragged into a position of taking on a sitting administration. That’s a rather sorry thing to see happen, especially when history has taught us that kowtowing to power is bad for both journalism and freedom of the press.