A Split Between The Times & Miller?

New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Executive Editor Bill Keller on Oct. 3 when she was welcomed back to the newsroom by staff after being jailed.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Executive Editor Bill Keller on Oct. 3 when she was welcomed back to the newsroom by staff after being jailed. (By Marilynn K. Yee -- The New York Times, Via Associated Press)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 22, 2005

New York Times executives "fully encouraged" reporter Judith Miller in her refusal to testify in the CIA leak investigation, a stance that led to her jailing, and later told Miller she could not continue at the paper unless she wrote a first-person account, her attorney said yesterday.

The comments by Robert Bennett came as Executive Editor Bill Keller accused Miller of apparently misleading the newspaper about her dealings with Vice President Cheney's top aide, signaling the first public split between Miller and the management of a newspaper that had fully embraced her in the contentious legal battle.

Bennett, Miller's lawyer, said he argued with Times executives that her agreement with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify before a grand jury did not entitle her to put "in the newspaper" her off-the-record conversations with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.

Disputing a lengthy Times story last Sunday in which Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said that "this car had her hand on the wheel," Bennett said Sulzberger and Keller "were making it very clear what they thought she should do. . . . She may be controversial in some things, but the bottom line is she spent 85 days in jail, mostly on a principle which the New York Times fully encouraged her to assert." He added that the executives left the final decision to Miller.

Bennett's comments, in response to a reporter's inquiry, followed a memo to the Times staff in which Keller distanced himself from Miller even while acknowledging several mistakes on his part.

"Until Fitzgerald came after her," Keller wrote, "I didn't know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the . . . whisper campaign" against Joe Wilson, the husband of CIA operative Valerie Plame. "I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel, a year after the fact." Citing a 2003 conversation with Miller that was recalled by Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman, Keller wrote: "Judy seems to have misled Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement."

Further, Keller said, "if 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."

Keller was traveling yesterday and could not be reached. Managing Editor Jill Abramson and George Freeman, a Times Co. lawyer involved in the case, did not respond to phone messages, and a Times spokeswoman declined comment.

Miller has been the focus of enormous controversy since her release from an Alexandria jail last month under a waiver of her confidentiality agreement with Libby, whose attorney insists he had offered the reporter the same release a year earlier. She says she did not consider Libby's waiver voluntary until she spoke to him and received a letter urging her to "come back to work -- and life."

Many of Miller's Times colleagues are angry at her and some media critics have called for her firing. But she has also won applause for standing up for the principle of protecting confidential sources, and the Society of Professional Journalists this week gave her a First Amendment award.

Miller's refusal to be interviewed by the Times until about 24 hours before the paper's deadline for the Sunday paper meant, as the New York Observer has reported, that about 250,000 copies were printed without the 6,000-word news story.

Bennett said he forcefully argued against Miller's accompanying first-person piece about her dealings with Libby because "it could affect the criminal prosecution" of senior administration officials who may have outed Plame as working for the CIA as part of a campaign against her husband, a White House critic. Such an article also "would antagonize the prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald," Bennett said.

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