For months, Judy Miller has been kicked around by critics outside the Times, while her detractors at the Gray Lady did their sniping on a not-for-attribution basis.

Until now. Bill Keller's criticism the other day, accusing Miller of misleading the paper about her role in the Plame case, has been followed by broadsides from the ombudsman and, in a much-buzzed-about column, Maureen Dowd.

It seems Ms. Miller once imperiously evicted Ms. Dowd from her seat at a White House briefing, but the op-ed column cuts far deeper than that:

"Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet 'Miss Run Amok.' . . .

"Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists. . . .

"Judy admitted in the story that she 'got it totally wrong' about W.M.D. 'If your sources are wrong,' she said, 'you are wrong.' But investigative reporting is not stenography. . . .

"She casually revealed that she had agreed to identify her source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as a 'former Hill staffer' because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. The implication was that this bit of deception was a common practice for reporters. It isn't. . . .

"Before turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, [the editors] should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade."

Oh, and the Times would be "in danger" if Miller returns to the newsroom.

I'd say Maureen has made her position clear, wouldn't you?

Public Editor Byron Calame | assails "the deferential treatment of Ms. Miller by editors who failed to dig into problems before they became a mess." He quotes Arthur Sulzberger as saying: "She and I have acknowledged that there are new limits on what she can do next." Calame adds that "the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter."

Tim Rutten |,0,7797630.column?coll=la-home-headlines&track=hppromobox says in the LAT:

"The Times is a great news organization with a newfound capacity for self-criticism and a demonstrated capacity to renew itself. Miller, the reporter, represents something far more persistent and pernicious in American journalism. She's virtually an exemplar of an all-too-common variety of Washington reporter: ambitious, self-interested, unscrupulous and intoxicated by proximity to power."

Jeff Jarvis | "Judy Miller is The Times' Dan Rather and she will -- or should -- force an era of reexamination and reinvention on the paper just as Rather brought it on his network."

The NYT | reports out my thesis of last week that the battle over Plame, Wilson, Miller, Libby & Rove is really a proxy war for the Iraq debate itself.

By the way, I defy anyone to read this story on how FEMA | ignored warnings for 16 crucial hours from its only staffer in New Orleans that the levees had broken and not have steam coming out of the ears. The negligence here borders on criminal.

On the Miers front, Slate's John Dickerson | is ready to pull the plug on grounds of unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment for Harriet:

"Friends and allies of the White House are now saying the Harriet Miers nomination has come to the same pass that the president's plan for overhauling Social Security reached last spring. The nomination is no longer viable; all that remains is for Bush to accept this.

"Bush almost always gets his way and usually enhances his standing in the process. But it's one thing to push a program against the will of the system. It's another thing to push a person. A person bleeds. At some point, Bush's refusal to scuttle Miers' nomination may turn into an act of cruelty. Forcing Miers to go forward increases the chances that her admirable career as a private lawyer, trusted friend, and able public servant will be eclipsed by the repeated calamities associated with trying to ram through her nomination."

The Philadelphia Inquirer | finds a questionable Harriet real-estate deal:

"Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers collected more than 10 times the market value for a small slice of family-owned land in a large Superfund pollution cleanup site in Dallas where the state wanted to build a highway off-ramp.

"The payment came after a judge, who received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Miers' law firm, appointed a professional associate of Miers and an outspoken property-rights activist to the three-member panel that determined how much the state should pay." Hmmm.

Fred Barnes |, who rarely says anything critical of Bush, blames the critics:

"Why have so many conservatives suddenly revolted against President Bush, nearly five years into his presidency? I think their split with Bush is ill advised, counterproductive, and in some ways childish. But there's no doubt it's happening and it's serious. And there's more to it than disappointment with his nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court.

"So why exactly has this revolt broken out now? I've come up with six reasons, and there may be more. One, a revolt was inevitable, sooner or later, simply because Bush is not a conventional conservative. He deviates on the role of the federal government, on domestic spending, on education, on the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, and on immigration. Given this kindling, it took only the spark of the Miers nomination to ignite a conservative backlash. . . .

"Two, Bush has not courted leaders of the conservative movement. . . .

"Three, the White House has grown a bit arrogant and self-centered."

Wow! Some actual criticism!

"Four, Bush is down. His job approval is at an all-time low. He is under fire, unfairly, for his handling of the Katrina rescue and recovery. . . .

"Five, the press is happy to abet the revolt. For the media, the situation is the best of all worlds. Not only is a conservative president in trouble, but the media can concentrate on covering conservatives who are bashing one of their own."

There's more, but we're out of space.

Rich Lowry | says Bush simply outfoxed himself:

"Republican presidents have long been drawn to the 'stealth strategy' on judicial nominations, picking conservatives, or supposed conservatives, without a public record so it will be harder for Democrats to oppose them. In the John Roberts nomination, a modified stealth strategy reached its height, giving the Court what is likely to be a conservative chief justice for the next 30 years. In the Harriet Miers nomination, the stealth strategy has all but collapsed, producing what might be the most catastrophic political miscalculation of the Bush presidency.

"In picking Miers, the White House out-stealthed itself. The Bush team isn't fully informed about its own nominee because the process of selecting her was so secretive. She was such a blank slate that many Bush supporters were opposed or noncommittal. In seeking stealthily to avoid a confirmation fight, the White House has instead set up one it might not be able to win.

"It created a quarrel with the president's own political base, much of which cares about excellence on the Court and also wants a nominee with a demonstrated conservative judicial philosophy. Many conservatives -- but not all -- were underwhelmed with Miers on both counts. This created a roiling split.

"The Miers nomination is a 'wedge issue' in reverse. The classic GOP wedge issues like crime and welfare split Democrats, and set up nasty quarrels among liberals. Miers has done it with the Right, as clashing conservatives denounce one another as 'elitists' and 'hacks.'"

Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page has abandoned the president:

"It now seems clear--even well before her Senate hearings--that this selection has become a political blunder of the first order. Especially in the wake of his success with John Roberts, President Bush had a rare opportunity to fulfill his campaign pledge to change the Court by nominating someone in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In the process, he would have rallied his most fervent supporters and helped to educate the country about proper Constitutional interpretation.

"Instead, he picked a woman who was his personal and White House counsel, and who was unknown to nearly everyone outside the White House and his Texas circle.

"After three weeks of spin and reporting, we still don't know much more about what Ms. Miers thinks of the Constitution. What we have learned is that the White House has presented her to the country, and thrown her into the buzz saw that is the U.S. Senate, without either proper preparation or vetting. The result has been a political melee that is hurting not just Ms. Miers, who deserves better. It is also damaging the White House and its prospects for a successful second term."

Are my eyes failing me? Is this really the Wall Street Journal?

Ed Morrissey | of Captain's Quarters is out of patience:

"I understand that the President makes his own choices and can get rather stubborn about them, but this water torture of daily missteps and revelations make it difficult for all but the most rabid partisans to continue supporting Miers' confirmation, even for the party's sake.

"Several people have criticized the conservatives who have questioned the wisdom of this nomination, pointing out that we have argued that Presidential prerogatives apply to executive appointments. We have argued that all nominees who get through committee deserve a fair up or down vote in the Senate. I firmly believe that. However, I also believe that the President has a responsibility to select nominees that meet minimal qualifications for the highest court in America in order to get that benefit of the doubt, and based on Miers' performance in the last couple of days, I highly doubt that Bush met that test in this one instance. If Clinton had named Bruce Lindsey to the Supreme Court with this kind of track record, the Right would have lined up for miles to shred both of them -- and we would have been correct to do so."

And here, before I forget, is today's print column:

The nation's two largest alternative newspaper chains plan to announce a merger today, a long-rumored combination that champions of quirky, iconoclastic, locally controlled papers have been sniping at for months.

New Times, the Phoenix-based publisher with 11 newspapers from Miami to San Francisco, is acquiring the Village Voice, the storied New York weekly co-founded by Norman Mailer, and five other papers owned by the Voice.

New Times will export its brand of "desert libertarianism on the rocks, with sprigs of neocon politics," writes Bruce Brugmann, publisher of the rival San Francisco Bay Guardian. Hogwash, says Michael Lacey, New Times's executive editor, insisting that "individual editors in individual cities determine the content of their papers week to week. . . . I wish there were more conservative writers at the papers. There aren't. There isn't anything imposed about the editorial viewpoint from Phoenix."

Reaction is likely to be chilly among many staffers at the notoriously fractious Voice, where columnist Cynthia Cotts described a 2000 acquisition attempt by New Times as a "hostile takeover" by a company whose media purchases produced a "signature bloodbath."

But David Schneiderman, chief executive of Village Voice Media, says the merger will give his papers a "national platform," particularly on the Web, an operation that he will oversee. While his staff will go through "a period of trepidation," Schneiderman says, "the resources of the combined company will strengthen us editorially." New Times executives, he says, "invest in editorial. This is what they're about. It's quite refreshing."

As for the notion that the fabled counterculture papers of yore are becoming more corporate, Schneiderman says: "The issue is, what's in the newspaper? I would challenge anyone who's critical of this to point to anything in our papers or the New Times papers that's establishment. It's flat-out not true."

Lacey says the merger of assets requires no cash. The 2000 deal had a purchase price of about $150 million, according to a source cited by the New York Times.

The planned acquisition will require Justice Department approval on antitrust grounds, since the combined company would control about 14 percent of the circulation of the major alternative weeklies nationwide. The department has clashed with both companies before. In 2002, New Times agreed to close its Los Angeles paper, which competed with Village Voice Media's L.A. Weekly, in exchange for the Voice shutting down its Cleveland paper, which did battle with New Times's Cleveland Scene.

Justice accused the companies of trying "to corrupt the competitive process by swapping markets, thereby guaranteeing each other a monopoly." The firms agreed in a consent decree to notify the department before any merger or shutdown. "We got bad legal advice," Lacey says.

That was not the only allegation of corporate excess; Brugmann's Bay Guardian has sued New Times on charges of predatory practices.

Alternative papers provide an outlet for colorful writing and muckraking local reporting -- as when Portland's Willamette Week revealed last year that former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt had sex with a 14-year-old girl three decades ago and paid $250,000 to hush it up. The 50-year-old Village Voice, which has had such prominent contributors as Jules Feiffer, Jack Newfield and Nat Hentoff, has won three Pulitzers, most recently in 2000 for coverage of AIDS in Africa.

Despite their liberal, anti-establishment pedigree, alternative weeklies such as New Times and Village Voice long ago became big business. They are free and stuffed with music and arts coverage, they rake in piles of cash from entertainment ads and personal classifieds. Village Voice Media is owned by a consortium of investment banks that beat out New Times five years ago.

"Perfectly good journalism is commercially viable," Lacey says. "You have to give them well-written, well-reported stories. We don't need focus groups. We knew damn well that good stories sell, not people doing raving opinion pieces about how outraged they are. Blogs have made it completely unnecessary to have alternative newspapers fulfilling that role."

No cash will change hands because the deal is structured as a merger, with New Times getting 62 percent of the equity (plus a 5-4 edge on the company's board) and Village Voice 38 percent. Jim Larkin, the chief executive of New Times, says the negotiations took 15 months and that the only job cuts he envisions are on the corporate staff. "Village Voice makes money," he says. "These are both plump companies."

Lacey co-founded Phoenix New Times with Larkin in 1970, when he was a college dropout who had to give blood to make ends meet. He says the chain -- which also owns papers in Houston, Dallas, Denver, St. Louis and Kansas City -- boosts the budgets of the weeklies it acquires, though he would not rule out job cuts at the Voice papers in an effort to boost profit margins.

New Times has won a slew of journalism awards. Mark Jurkowitz, media critic for the Boston Phoenix, wrote recently that the company is "known for being non-ideological." But Lacey concedes that the planned takeover will produce a "culture clash" at the Voice, "because people will resent someone coming in from the outside. It's always very disturbing." What's more, New Times is a non-union shop, while the Voice and L.A. Weekly have noisy unions.

In terms of sheer feistiness, the papers may not be that far apart. A Voice writer recently slammed President Bush's "cluster of neocons and religious nuts and military industrialists," adding: "We need to investigate Wampumgate, Kazakhgate, the oil-for-slush scandal, Plamegate, and all the rest -- we need to do it for the sake of our own democracy."

Phoenix New Times, meanwhile, was calling the Maricopa County sheriff "a modern-day J. Edgar Hoover . . . without the penchant for women's underwear" and accusing local media outlets of the journalistic equivalent of sexually servicing him.

To skeptics, a large company that serves both the 1.1 million readers of New Times and the 800,000 of Village Voice Media -- which also has papers in Seattle, Minneapolis, Orange County and Nashville -- is a giant step toward the corporatization of the alternative news world. But Lacey argues that "media concentration at our end of the business is a good thing because it allows us to compete effectively," and says he hopes to restore the Voice "to its glory days."

That may or may not happen. But the bastion of Greenwich Village liberalism was once owned by Rupert Murdoch for six years. "The joke was we were Poland and Murdoch was Russia," says Schneiderman, a 27-year Voice veteran, "the only question was when he would invade."

Judith Miller is officially in a war of words with Bill Keller.

Responding to a Friday memo in which the New York Times editor accused her of misleading the paper and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman about her role in the Valerie Plame leak case, Miller told the Times that Keller's criticism was "seriously inaccurate. . . . I certainly never meant to mislead Phil, nor did I mislead him."

Miller said she was unaware of "a deliberate, concerted disinformation campaign" against Plame's husband when she discussed the matter two years ago with vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. "As for your reference to my 'entanglement' with Mr. Libby," she told Keller, "I had no personal, social, or other relationship with him except as a source."

Nada Behziz, a reporter for the Bakersfield Californian, quoted a 10-year-old girl for a piece on teenage smoking -- and the quote happened to be a verbatim reproduction of what a 4-year-old girl had said in a study on smoking. Editor Mike Jenner, saying he is "embarrassed," fired Behziz after learning that four paragraphs were lifted from a decade-old San Francisco Examiner piece, and that the existence of two named sources could not be verified. Behziz insists this was merely unintentional "sloppy journalism."

Sinclair Broadcasting is still going after Jonathan Leiberman, the former Washington bureau chief who quit last year to protest the company's plan to air a documentary on an anti-John Kerry film. Sinclair, according to the Maryland Daily Record, has sued Leiberman for violating his contract by talking about the company's internal affairs.