Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 11:16 AM
The last person Judith Miller probably wanted to see yesterday was me.
So as fate would have it, when I got to the federal courthouse yesterday morning for the Scooter Libby trial, I saw superlawyer Robert Bennett in the corridor and said hello, realizing a split-second later that Miller, his client, was walking alongside him. She quickly looked away.
And when her testimony ended and I emerged from the press room, who was walking toward me? I greeted Bennett again. Miller made no eye contact.
For the record, I have nothing against her. I admire her doggedness, especially in going to jail when it would have been easier to cut a deal, and feel some sympathy for what she got caught up in.
At the same time, I've always been amazed by what a lightning rod she is, not just for outside critics of her Iraq reporting but for many of her former colleagues at the New York Times.
What bothered me most was her refusal to answer questions when I was reporting stories involving her, only to complain afterward about what I had written. I expect that kind of behavior from stonewalling politicians, not journalists.
In 2003, I reported on Miller's spat with the Times's Baghdad bureau chief, who scolded her for writing about Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi after being notified that someone else would handle the assignment. "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper," Miller wrote in an e-mail.
Months later, I wrote about Miller's unusually forceful role while embedded with an Army unit looking for WMD. When the unit, Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, was ordered to withdraw, Miller wrote to two public affairs officers: "I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil. . . . I intend to write about this decision in the NY Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made."
Miller later challenged the pullback order with Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of the 101st Airborne, and on his advice to a subordinate, the withdrawal order was rescinded. Petraeus, you may recall, has just been put in charge of the Iraq war effort.
During this period, Miller filed such stories as "U.S. Aides Say Iraqi Truck Could be a Germ-War Lab," "Radioactive Material Found at a Test Site Near Baghdad" and "U.S. Analysts Link Iraqi Labs to Germ Arms." Some of her prewar stories, which turned out to be wrong, helped the Bush administration build its case against Saddam Hussein.
Well, all right, lots of journalists got the WMD story wrong, and I always felt that Miller attracted more than her share of abuse. When the Pulitzer Prize winner was facing jail for refusing to testify in the Libby case, I led one story by saying: "Judith Miller has her share of detractors in the news business, but almost everyone who takes notes for a living is rooting for her now."
That, of course, was before her messy breakup at the Times, where editor Bill Keller later concluded that Miller "seems to have misled" the paper about the extent of her involvement with Libby. Miller vigorously disputed this.