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The Judy Chronicles

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 17, 2005 12:33 PM

The Judy Miller story is so hot right now that I want to get right to the blogosphere reaction, and will make you scroll down to read my print column.

The reaction is, well, overwhelmingly negative. I would at least give the NYT credit for publishing a probing piece that raises difficult questions not just about Miller but about the paper's management--more so, in a way, than the famous takeout on Jayson Blair two years ago.

You can read my story here , and I'll just pull out one section that suggests why Miller isn't the most popular person among her colleagues--even after taking the difficult step of spending 85 days in the clink:

Craig Pyes, a former contract writer for the Times who teamed up with Miller for a series on al-Qaeda, complained about her in a December 2000 memo to Times editors and asked that his byline not appear on one piece.

"I'm not willing to work further on this project with Judy Miller," wrote Pyes, who now writes for the Los Angeles Times. He added: "I do not trust her work, her judgment, or her conduct. She is an advocate, and her actions threaten the integrity of the enterprise, and of everyone who works with her . . . She has turned in a draft of a story of a collective enterprise that is little more than dictation from government sources over several days, filled with unproven assertions and factual inaccuracies," and "tried to stampede it into the paper."

Pyes said yesterday he had no problem with the articles as published, which helped win one of two Pulitzer Prizes he shared at the paper.

On to the bloggers! David Corn captures the mood:

"The Times story . . . further undermines Miller's attempt to become the Joan of Arc for modern-day journalists."

James Wolcott is, I believe, engaging in a bit of sarcasm:

"Let us not be too harsh on Judith Miller herself, however. She was caught up in the hypnotic voodoo of highstakes journalism. We've all been there. All of us veteran reporters who risk our parking privileges in pursuit of a hot story know what it's like to have strange words leap into your notebook out of nowhere in the middle of an intense interrogation.

"You're sitting there having breakfast at the St. Regis with Scooter Aspen, buttering each other's toast, and somehow the name "Valerie Flame" pops up in your notebook without you knowing how it got there! It's your handwriting, sure enough, but rack your brain much as you will, you just can't remember which little birdie tweeted that name into your ear."

Arianna : "Now that I have spent a few hours absorbing this latest installment in the ongoing soap opera 'Desperate Editors,' I can safely say that not since Geraldo cracked open Al Capone's vault has there been a bigger anticlimax or a bigger sham. After all, the question everybody has been asking is: who was the source who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to Judy Miller?

"And the answer? She can't remember."

Floyd Abrams told me yesterday that the other source may have just mentioned Plame, or Flame, in passing, and that Miller's only substantive source on the subject was Scooter Libby.

Jay Rosen :

"This, I think, is what will finally sever Judy Miller from the Times: Ms. Miller generally would not discuss . . . Not forgivable in the newsroom's moral code. Your colleagues are trying to finally tell the truth and get it right -- and you won't help?"

Boston Phoenix's Mark Jurkowitz :

"There's nothing in the Times revelations to argue that Judy Miller deserved to be locked up behind bars for refusing to testify about a confidential source. But there was plenty to suggest that the Times has paid a major price for again failing in its oversight of a strong-willed reporter who had generated internal skepticism about work habits and work product. And that sounds all too familiar."

Greg Mitchell takes no prisoners in his Editor & Publisher column:

"As the newspaper's devastating account of her Plame games -- and her own first-person sidebar -- make clear, she should be promptly dismissed for crimes against journalism, and her own newspaper. And Bill Keller, executive editor, who let her get away with it, owes readers, at the minimum, an apology instead of merely hailing his paper's long-delayed analysis and saying that readers can make of it what they will.

"Let's put aside for the moment Miller exhibiting the same selective memory favored by her former friends and sources in the White House, in claiming that for the life of her she cannot recall how the name of 'Valerie Flame' got into the reporter's notebook she took to her interview with Libby; how she learned about the CIA operative from other sources (whom she can't name or even recall when it happened."

Andrew Sullivan reaches back one administration for an analogy:

"Miller is pulling a Clinton when she says she cannot recall who gave her the name 'Valerie Flame.' So she is either protecting Libby or someone else entirely or her own reporting. What is she hiding and why?. . . .

"Why did her editors not insist on her turning over the notes? Are they not NYT property? Or is she somehow in a 'star reporter zone' outside of normal editorial control?"

The Wall Street Journal lands a brief Judy interview and asks about the "Valerie Flame" notation in her notebook:

"'I don't remember who told me the name,' she said, growing agitated. 'I wasn't writing a story, remember?' Asked if the other source was Mr. Rove, she replied, 'I'm not going to discuss anyone else that I talked to.'"

At Daily Kos , Armando starts by quoting Bush's insistence he'd fire any Plame leakers and McClellan's denial that Rove was involved:

"Of course Karl Rove was involved up to his eyeballs. And Karl Rove still works at the White House. And George Bush is a liar. And where is the Media outrage at being lied to? Well . . . . "

Here he quotes a Richard Cohen column:

" More is at stake here than bringing down Karl Rove or some other White House apparatchik, or even settling some score with Miller, who is sometimes accused of taking this nation to war in Iraq all by herself. The greater issue is control of information. If anything good comes out of the Iraq war, it has to be a realization that bad things can happen to good people when the administration -- any administration -- is in sole control of knowledge and those who know the truth are afraid to speak up. This -- this creepy silence -- will be the consequence of dusting off rarely used statutes to still the tongues of leakers and intimidate the press in its pursuit of truth, fame and choice restaurant tables. Apres Miller comes moi. This is why I want Fitzgerald to leave now.

"Yes, this would be hilariously incoherent if it were not so serious. This is the Washington Establishment Media. Incompetent. Idiotic. Incoherent. Incapable of doing its job."

But only 35 cents a day, in The Post's case.

The sexism debate over Harriet Miers, which I tackled Friday, gets a going-over from the New Republic's Michelle Cottle :

"Even if dear Laura really believes that Miers is the victim of a cruel double standard, what on earth made her think it was a shrewd political strategy to play the gender card with her own party?

"While shameless, cynical, morally reprehensible, and only occasionally effective, Republican efforts to bully Democratic lawmakers into line by painting them as sexist, racist, or some other kind of pernicious '-ist' at least make sense. Liberals in general tend to freak out whenever anyone accuses them of any sort of bigotry or retrograde thinking. Democratic politicians in particular live in terror of offending all those non-white-male voters upon whom they rely so heavily.

"At this point, however, the folks giving Bushie so much grief over Miers are his right flank--a group that tends to be dramatically less squeamish about accusations of sexism. If anything, conservatives tend to get brassed off about such charges and denounce whomever is leveling them for acting like a bunch of loony liberals. Sure enough, upon hearing of Gillespie's comments, National Review editor Rich Lowry publicly expressed dismay over the former RNC chief's using the same 'talking points' as liberal Democrats. Neocon eminence Bill Kristol dismissed the sexism theory as 'liberal talking points,' while conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg said this was the kind of nonsense he typically expected from 'left wingers.'

"Right-wing bloggers, meanwhile, have not been shy about voicing their displeasure. 'With all due respect, perhaps Mrs. Bush should stick to telling horse jokes,' snipped Michelle Malkin."

Peggy Noonan is plotting an exit strategy for W:

" The full Tim McCarthy . He was the Secret Service agent who stood like Stonewall and took the bullet for Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton. Harriet Miers can withdraw her name, take the hit, and let the president's protectors throw him in the car. Her toughness and professionalism would appear wholly admirable. She'd not just survive; she'd flourish, going from much-spoofed office wife to world-famous lawyer and world-class friend. Added side benefit: Her nobility makes her attackers look bad . . .

"An essential White House mistake--really a key and historic one--was in turning on its critics with such idiotic ferocity. 'My way or the highway' is getting old. 'Please listen to us and try to see it our way or we'll have to kill you,' is getting old. Sending Laura Bush out to make her first mistake as first lady, agreeing with Matt Lauer that sexism is probably part of the reason for opposition to Ms. Miers, was embarrassingly inept and only served to dim some of the power of this extraordinary resource."

If you really want to keep up with the Kurtz archive, here's my weekend piece on Scott McClellan's increasingly tough sparring with reporters.

Now, as previously promised, today's print column:

Some of the biggest names in conservative punditry have been eviscerating President Bush over the Harriet Miers nomination. But no one has attracted quite as much attention as David Frum .

It's not just that the National Review contributor and American Enterprise Institute fellow was online with stinging criticism of Bush two hours after the president announced Miers as his Supreme Court nominee. It's not just that Frum has been blogging up a storm and hitting the television and radio circuit. It's that the Canadian-born journalist is a former Bush speechwriter.

"I think it was courageous," says Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. "He knew that there would be a little suspicion, however unfounded, of personal animosity." Still, says Kristol, "because he worked there four years ago, he's not supposed to express an opinion?"

Frum, who is said by friends to be the target of fierce resentment by administration officials, was reluctant to be interviewed and uncomfortable with being portrayed as Miers's most vocal critic.

"For me, there has not been a moment when I have not just felt ill about this whole thing," he says. "My personal hope is that it gets resolved as quickly and quietly as possible with a minimum amount of harm to the administration" -- through a Miers withdrawal.

The fratricidal battle, as Frum describes it, goes to the heart of a conservative media establishment that, to outsiders at least, has long seemed to operate with enormous message discipline. But the new dissension raises a host of questions: Does the White House see journalists on the right as being on the team, and punish transgressors by limiting access? Do conservative media folks have a responsibility to challenge Bush when he deviates from their principles -- and if so, why haven't they done it until now? Are former administration officials expected to abide by an unspoken loyalty oath, and how long does it last?

Frum calls Miers "a lovely person" and recounts how she counseled, and wrote a will for, a young White House aide who fell ill and died of cancer. "But we're talking about the Supreme Court of the United States and what the institution needs," he says. "There are a lot of wonderful people in America who shouldn't be on the Supreme Court -- and a lot who should be on the court who aren't such wonderful people."

The spectacle of Frum, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, John Podhoretz, Kristol and other conservative commentators breaking with their president over Miers has the feel of a messy family feud. These, after all, are the political pugilists who are usually slapping around liberals and Democrats. But there is something about Bush picking his White House counsel and longtime personal lawyer -- and passing over a batch of conservative judges with sterling credentials -- that has inflamed his normally loyal media supporters.

Former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie says he's detected a whiff of sexism in the opposition to Miers. Fox News anchor Brit Hume has noted that many critics of the Southern Methodist University graduate went to elite Eastern schools.

This prompted Frum -- a proud graduate of Yale and Harvard Law -- to fire back at "Brit Hume's and Fred Barnes' embarrassing repetition of Ed Gillespie's talking points: 'Brawwwwwk-sexism; brawwwwwwk-elitism; brawwwwwwwwk-Harvard; brawwwwwwwwwk; brawwwwwkk; brawwwwwk.'"

Barnes, the Standard's executive editor, says that he thinks Frum's opposition is legitimate but that it is unfair to challenge the motives of those who disagree. "The notion that Brit and I are merely tools of Ed Gillespie or the White House is insulting and wrong," says Barnes, adding that he hadn't talked to Gillespie all week. "That's the kind of thing liberals do." Barnes also dismisses as "ridiculous" Frum's contention that Miers should not have been picked even if she turns out to be a solid conservative vote on the court.

Hume says it was obvious that his jibe "was considerably tongue-in-cheek, and some of the responses have been notably humorless. Lighten up a little bit!"

Frum, 45, is an intense but gregarious writer and the author of five books who enjoys throwing parties with his wife, the novelist and essayist Danielle Crittenden Frum, in the huge back yard of their Wesley Heights home. A former editor for Forbes and the Wall Street Journal editorial page who moved here in 1996, Frum returns periodically to Canada, where he writes a column for the National Post.

Frum drew some unwanted attention shortly before leaving the Bush White House in early 2002 when his wife told friends in an e-mail (which leaked to the world) that he had helped coin the phrase "axis of evil" for the president's post-9/11 State of the Union address. In early 2003, Frum published "The Right Man,"a mostly positive book about Bush that nonetheless contained some tart observations.

The president "is impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill-informed; more conventional in his thinking than a leader should be," Frum wrote. Although the book was no kiss-and-tell, it did not endear him to White House loyalists.

When Bush nominated Miers on Sept. 29 at an 8 a.m. news conference, Frum raced to his home computer and wrote that "Harriet Miers is a capable lawyer, a hard worker, and a kind and generous person," but hardly Supreme Court material.

"In the White House that hero worshipped the president, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal: She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met."

Suddenly, Frum was deluged with media requests. He appeared on "NBC Nightly News," ABC's "World News Tonight," CNN and National Public Radio.

He has stayed on the offense for National Review Online, writing that if conservatives accept the Miers nomination, they "will be jettisoning every principle in favor of just this one: the leader is always right. That's not just unconservative. It's un-American." This week, he felt compelled to deny that he has "some secret personal motive" for opposing Miers.

"My conservatism is about ideas, not personalities," he wrote. "It is very dispiriting to me that we have reached a point where the honest expression of a conscientious belief is interpreted by many to be a disguised expression of a personal animus."

The attacks on Frum, says National Review Editor Rich Lowry, "are arguments of last resort when you have nothing better to say. . . . He's close to these people, so it's particularly hard to say things he knows they're going to take major exception to. It's very principled and courageous of him to be so out front on this from Day One."

After taking a Yom Kippur blogging break, Frum helped draft a petition against Miers for conservatives to sign, which quickly garnered 3,000 signatures. "It is madness," he wrote last week, "for a 37% president to declare war on his strongest supporters, but that is exactly the strategy that this unwise nomination has forced upon President Bush."

Punctured Tire

The ad submitted to the Detroit News was not exactly subtle.

Toyota and Hyundai operate "in countries that sponsor terrorism," it said, while General Motors does not.

Jim Doyle of the Level Field Institute, funded by retirees and suppliers of the Big Three automakers, says the News questioned the assertion, which he explained was based on State Department findings about Sudan and Iran. Then a News advertising executive told him the ad was being rejected because her bosses had decided it was "inflammatory to our advertisers." Says Doyle: "I didn't expect to get censored in Detroit."

The same ad, by the way, has run in Roll Call and been accepted by The Washington Post for this week.

So was the News protecting its automobile advertisers? Henry Ford, the paper's vice president for marketing, says he has "no comment other than it was a simple business decision."

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