Judith Miller: Thoughts from the Armchair Critics

Everyone had something to say about JudyGate, from her triumphant release from prison on September 29th to her repeat appearances before the Grand Jury to the inexplicable silence on the matter by the Paper of Record. This weekend, the Times finally ran both Miller’s personal account and the report by its own internal investigative team, which raised almost as many questions as they answered. Judith Miller is suddenly on leave, with no word on when she’ll be back. The whole sordid mess has caused positively torrents of ink to be spilled and has no doubt increased the incidence of caffeine consumption and carpal tunnel syndrome amongst the New York media. Though it may well be summed up by Jay Rosen’s simple “Wowzer,” here are a few media musings from the “armchair critics” on the unfolding drama at the New York Times.

“Everything has to wait until the moment when Judy ‘can be expected to tell what happened,’ as Landman so carefully put it. When it comes and she still refuses the hierarchy will turn a whiter shade of pale. Key people will then know their investment in Miller went terribly wrong.” —Jay Rosen, PressThink, October 12, 2005

“Not since Geraldo cracked open Al Capone’s vault has there been a bigger anticlimax or a bigger sham. The question everybody’s been asking is: who was the source who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Judy Miller? And the answer? She cannot recall. … If these two articles have revealed anything at all, it’s that Judy Miller is no journalist.” — Arianna Huffington, October 15, 2005

“Miller did far more damage to her newspaper than did Jayson Blair, and that’s not even counting her WMD reporting, which hurt and embarrassed the paper in other ways… ” —Greg Mitchell, E&P, October 15,2005.

It’s now clear confinement wasn’t pointless. It worked for the prosecutor exactly as intended. After a couple of months of sleeping on “two thin mats on a concrete slab,” Miller decided, in her words, “I owed it to myself” to check and see if just maybe Libby really meant to release her from her promise of confidentiality. And sure enough– you know what?–it turns out he did! The message sent to every prosecutor in the country is “Don’t believe journalists who say they will never testify. A bit of hard time and they just might find a reason to change their minds. Judy Miller did.” This is the victory for the press the Times has achieved. More journalists will now go to jail, quite possibly, than if Miller had just cut a deal right away, before taking her stand on “principle.” —Mickey Kaus, Slate, October 16, 2005.

Then there is the unbelievable fact that Miller cannot recall the most key detail in this incident, the source for Plame’s name. Discussions with some at the Times indicated that this would be the hardest pill to swallow for people there: Either Miller is lying, they said, or she’s sloppy to the point of ineffectiveness in her reporting. Neither scenario speaks for her continued employment as a star reporter. —Farhad Manjoo, Salon, Oct. 17, 2005

“I find the Times’ conduct at this point inexplicable.” —Michael Isikoff, “Reliable Sources,” October 10, 2005

“Given the NYT’s questionable management of this whole sordid affair, we’re actually surprised they didn’t stoke further flames by putting the articles behind the TimesSelect wall.” —FishbowlDC, October 15, 2005.

“The entire thing.” –NYT Managing Editor Jill Abramson, on what she regretted about the Times‘ handling of the matter, NYT, Oct. 15, 2005.

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.

“It’s too early to judge it, and it’s probably for other people to judge,” said Mr. Keller, the executive editor. “I hope that people will remember that this institution stood behind a reporter, and the principle, when it wasn’t easy to do that, or popular to do that.” —The New York Times, October 15, 2005

ADDITIONAL FISHBOWL COVERAGE:

  • Judith Miller: Answers, barely
  • Judith Miller: Clues in “Hard News”
  • Switched at Birth? Judith Miller and Dawn Eden
  • Judith Miller: Postscript to the Postscript