Miller and the Times Agree to Part Company

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 10, 2005

Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who went to jail as a First Amendment champion in the CIA leak case but wound up being rebuked by her executive editor and some of her colleagues, resigned from the paper yesterday after a controversial 28-year career.

The negotiated agreement over her departure included a letter to the editor, to be published today, in which Miller said she is quitting in part because "I have become the news." Even before she served 85 days in jail last summer for refusing to testify about her conversations with then-vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Miller wrote, she had "become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war." Miller, whose prewar stories about whether Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction were later disavowed by the Times as inaccurate, said she regretted "that I was not permitted to pursue" the story further.

Executive Editor Bill Keller, in a note to the staff, said, "Judy participated in some great, prize-winning journalism" and "displayed fierce determination and personal courage both in pursuit of the news and in resisting assaults on the freedom of news organizations to report."

Miller remains a likely witness in the perjury and obstruction-of-justice case against Libby. But a Times spokeswoman would not say whether the paper would continue paying her legal bills, saying the severance package was confidential.

Under the settlement, Keller released a letter in which he clarified his earlier criticism of Miller. In an October memo, Keller said Miller "seems to have misled Phil Taubman," the Washington bureau chief, "about the extent of her involvement" in receiving information about CIA operative Valerie Plame. Keller also said he would have been more cautious, and perhaps more willing to compromise with the special prosecutor demanding her testimony, "if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby."

In yesterday's letter, Keller wrote Miller: "You are upset with me that I used the words 'entanglement' and 'engagement' in reference to your relationship with Scooter Libby. Those words were not intended to suggest an improper relationship. I was referring only to the series of interviews through which you -- and the paper -- became caught up in an epic legal controversy." Keller added that he remains "troubled" by her 2003 conversation with Taubman but that "Phil himself does not contend that you misled him."

Miller, 57, a Pulitzer Prize winner, drew considerable sympathy when she went to jail, rejecting as involuntary a waiver of confidentiality from Libby that was accepted by journalists for NBC, Time and The Washington Post who were subpoenaed in the case. Miller changed her mind after speaking with Libby and was released Sept. 29.

But her limited cooperation with the paper's own reporters -- and the disclosure that she had agreed to describe Libby as a "former Hill staffer" -- led to criticism by Keller and the Times ombudsman.

Harvard media analyst Alex Jones, a former Times reporter, called Miller's departure "inevitable. . . . There was a feeling of frustration and anger by members of the Times staff about how they felt Judy Miller had in some ways compromised them and their credibility had been compromised by how the New York Times dealt with her." He said the paper still needs to fully explain "what went wrong."

"I don't see any way she could have returned to the paper because she had violated the code of professional journalism in so many ways that I didn't see the staff able to accept her again," said Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor. "I don't think her peers understood why she went to prison in the first place and why she left when she left."

Miller wrote that some of Keller's comments unfairly "suggested insubordination on my part," but said she has always "adhered to the paper's sourcing and ethical guidelines."

Miller told The Washington Post yesterday that she did "exactly the right thing" in both going to jail and negotiating her way out. "But I'm moving on," she said. "You can't be as much in the news as I am and go on with reporting as usual."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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