In her new book “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” former New York Times reporter Judith Miller mounts a spirited defense of her life’s work, particularly her contributions to the newspaper’s reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war — a jumble of misfiring stories for which Miller has sustained the brunt of the blame. A sweeping look at those bigger issues will come later.
For now, bullet points on some of the more gossipy moments in the book:
• Miller hammered her bosses over first draft of famous editor’s note. In May 2004, the New York Times published a newsworthy note “From the Editors” acknowledging a number of reportorial lapses in covering the situation in Iraq prior to the March 2003 start of the war. “[W]e have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been,” reads the note. “In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.”
That wasn’t the first draft, however. In a somber meeting on Friday, May 21, 2004, Miller sat with then-Executive Editor Bill Keller and Managing Editor Jill Abramson to discuss the paper’s impending mea culpa for its Iraq coverage. “Jill was seated, unsmiling. Keller was pacing, clutching papers,” writers Miller.
Keller let her know that an editor’s note had been drafted and was slated for publication on that Sunday. Miller writes of her reaction, “Without having asked me a single question about my sources, the circumstances under which the articles were published, or the editors who had handled them, the paper was going to publish what read like a front-page indictment mostly of my articles. The editor’s note was a done deal.”
Reading through the note, Miller cited a number of difficulties. She let her feelings fly: “If you run this,” she told her superiors, “you had better prepare a second editor’s note to correct the errors, omissions, and unsupported innuendos in this version. And you’ll also have to explain why I’ll be denouncing my on paper on CNN.”
The editor’s note didn’t appear until the following Wednesday. “Initially I was relieved,” writes Miller. “At 1,145 words, it was half as long as the draft Keller and Abramson had shown me five days earlier. It ran on Wednesday, not the Sunday paper; on A-10, not the front page. It did not name me or any other reporter.”
• Miller rips Howard Kurtz. Right now they’re colleagues of sort: Kurtz is a Fox News media critic and host; Miller is a contributor at the network. Back in the days of the Iraq war, however, they were stationed at competing outlets: Kurtz at The Washington Post and Miller at the New York Times. On May 26, 2003, Kurtz wrote a story titled, “Intra-Times Battle Over Iraqi Weapons,” which exposed an e-mail spat between Miller and then-New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns.
Burns to Miller: “I am deeply chagrined at your reporting and filing on Chalabi after I had told you on Monday night that we were planning a major piece on him — and without so much as telling me what you were doing.”
Miller to Burns: “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.”
Kurtz wrote another piece in June: “Embedded Reporter’s Role In Army Unit’s Actions Questioned by Military.” In it, he cited an unnamed military source as saying that Miller, who had embedded with a unit searching for weapons of mass destruction, was “almost hijacking the mission.”
“None of this was accurate,” writes Miller in “The Story.” She recounts that some officers engaged in the weapons hunt wrote to The Post “flatly denying Kurtz’s account,” though the newspaper didn’t run a retraction, notes Miller. The very awkward kicker comes in the footnotes of Miller’s book: “In an interview in July 2014, Howard Kurtz, who now works at Fox News, where I also work part-time as a contributor, said that he stood by his sources.”
• Miller cites man for not citing her Pulitzer. The prologue in “The Story” communicates Miller’s commitment to “correcting and completing the record.” And the sole footnote to the prologue communicates Miller’s commitment to correcting and completing the record laid out by Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor. Gardner edited a volume titled “Responsibility at Work: How Leading Professionals Act (or Don’t Act) Responsibly.” Though the title relies on various contributors, Gardner himself wrote the chapter on Miller, “Irresponsible Work.”
Donning a media critic’s hat in her footnote, Miller writes, “While he quotes from my website and thanks eleven people for having provided ‘useful feedback on earlier drafts of this chapter,’ five of whom worked at one time for the Times, there is no indication that he ever tried to contact me for comment, a basic pillar of the craft.”
But it gets worse! “He offers no examples of my supposedly egregious reporting and makes no mention of my Pulitzer.”