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The Judith Miller Story: Not Ready Yet

After her release from jail Judith Miller was greeted at the New York Times by Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., left, Executive Editor Bill Keller and, doing the hugging, Managing Editor John Geddes.
After her release from jail Judith Miller was greeted at the New York Times by Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., left, Executive Editor Bill Keller and, doing the hugging, Managing Editor John Geddes. (By Marilyn K. Yee -- New York Times Via Associated Press)

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Interviews with nearly a dozen Times staffers, all of whom refused to be identified because they did not want to openly challenge their bosses, provided a mixed picture. Some said the newsroom is more demoralized now than during the 2003 debacle over Jayson Blair's serial fabrications, because top editors were deceived by Blair but in this case have embraced Miller's handling of the controversy and level of disclosure. The Blair revelations sparked a staff revolt against the autocratic management style of executive editor Howell Raines, who was ousted and replaced by Keller, a former managing editor.

While some staffers say Keller and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. have allowed their passionate defense of Miller to cloud their journalistic judgment in pursuing the story, others, who respect Keller's more collegial management style, give them the benefit of the doubt for delaying a definitive account.

Miller has long been a lightning rod for her coverage -- some of which turned out to be wrong -- of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before and soon after the U.S. invasion. But Clymer said some of the animosity stems from her tenure as a deputy Washington bureau chief in the late 1980s, when he said Miller tried to force several reporters to leave the bureau.

"Judy is a very aggressive, hard-driving reporter," Clymer said. "She often demands that people do things, and bruises feelings. People in the Washington bureau tried unsuccessfully to persuade editors that her reporting about weapons of mass destruction was wrong."

Some media analysts intensified their criticism when the Times got scooped online, first on the story of Miller's release from jail and again on her discovery of additional, earlier notes of a conversation with Libby, which triggered yesterday's second appearance before the grand jury.

Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, said on his PressThink blog that the Times "has lost the capacity to tell the truth about itself in this story. . . . What we don't know is why the Times has gone into editorial default."

American Journalism Review Editor Rem Rieder wrote on his magazine's Web site that the longer the Times waits, "it begins to look like there's something to hide. And credibility accrues to those nasty theories that Miller really went to jail to salvage her reputation in the wake of the botched WMD coverage."

Times columnist Frank Rich said in a CNN interview that he has been "frustrated" by the situation: "I think the Times, now that she has testified, has to be transparent about what happened, why her situation was different from Matt Cooper's, and indeed ultimately about her grand jury testimony, which, as I understand it legally, she's free to disclose, or will be presumably after Mr. Fitzgerald is finished with her."


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