The Reporter's Last Take
Thursday, November 10, 2005
NEW YORK Judy Miller's fumbling with the tape recorder. It's not even her tape recorder.
"This is off the record," she's saying, her voice high and nasal. She's groping for a button to stop the tape, to take us behind that cozy curtain called "off the record" where you can dish, spin, vent, manipulate, and all in secret.
Miller's good at it. This is her world.
So here we are last week in a SoHo brasserie called Balthazar, where a parade of Judys appears. Outraged Judy. Saddened Judy. Charming Judy. Wise Judy. Conspiratorial Judy. Judy, the star New York Times reporter turned beleaguered victim of the gossipmongers and some journalists who have made her "sick to death of the regurgitation of lies and easily checkable falsehoods." That's why she's agreed to talk.
But her Treo's vibrating on her hip. It's a friend calling. "My fan club from Paris," she chirps into the phone, in English, before switching to a mix of French and Arabic.
It goes on like this for three hours. She answers questions -- or refuses. She turns the tables, asking about her interviewer's life. She takes calls. She grabs the tape recorder. She waxes eloquent, even in anger. At times, tears well up. There's something frantic about her -- not vulnerable, mind you, for that's the last thing she is.
"Oh. I've got to take this." She's reaching for the phone again. "It's my lawyer."
For weeks, she'd been in severance talks with the Times. And finally, yesterday, she and her employer of 28 years called it quits.
After all, how could she have remained at a newspaper where her boss, Executive Editor Bill Keller, seemed to have called her a liar and added the innuendo of the word "entanglement" to the lexicon of reporter-source relations? Where she's been vilified in print as a "Woman of Mass Destruction"? Where a lot of people think she used her journalism to help the Bush administration's case for war? Where colleagues were outraged to hear accusations that she abused her embedded status with an Army unit searching for those fabled weapons of mass destruction?
Well, Miller had -- before her resignation -- some pointed, mocking words for her many critics.
"I am so powerful and influential that I take over Army divisions? I run the New York Times newsroom single-handedly? And now I take the country to war? Wow! That must be one heck of a reporter. I've heard of pushy broads, but this brings the pushy broad to a new level."
Looking for the Truth
She is celebrated and scorned, both famous and infamous. A dogged reporter, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of four books, expert on terrorism, confidante of powerful government sources through several White House administrations -- and yet Miller's credibility came to rest on a single question: Does she tell the truth?