[Media]Confessions at the Times - Judy Miller Edition. Both Judith Miller*
and the New York Times
have long promised that they would write detailed, post-game wrap-ups of their involvement in the great Plame fiasco once the grand jury had concluded. They both make good on that promise today--though "good" isn't exactly the right adjective. (Verbose is closer--they weigh in collectively at 9,500 words.)
Let's deal first with Miller
, whose story is fairly straightforward, if elusive. Miller uses language bordering on comic it's so neutral: "During my testimony on Sept. 30 and Oct. 12, the special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, asked me whether Mr. Libby had shared classified information with me during our several encounters before Mr. Novak's article." She's in just-the-facts-ma'am mode, posing as the courageous journalist who may be telling all, but not gossiping. Yet there's something decidedly evasive in the prose.
One of the critical questions was why Judy was rotting in jail to protect Scooter Libby when Libby had already given her permission to reveal his name. Her response?
At the behest of President Bush and Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Libby had signed a blanket form waiver, which his lawyer signaled to my counsel was not really voluntary, even though Mr. Libby's lawyer also said it had enabled other reporters to cooperate with the grand jury. But I believed that nothing short of a personal letter and a telephone call would allow me to assess whether Mr. Libby truly wished to free me from the pledge of confidentiality I had given him. The letter and the telephone call came last month.
Equally central to my decision was Mr. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor. He had declined to confine his questioning to the subject of Mr. Libby. This meant I would have been unable to protect other confidential sources who had provided information - unrelated to Mr. Wilson or his wife - for articles published in The Times. Last month, Mr. Fitzgerald agreed to limit his questioning.
The first excuse--which she's previously hinted at--strains credulity. If Libby wasn't giving voluntary permission via his lawyer, why would she trust a personal letter? As to why she continued to sit in jail weeks after she'd gotten his permission; well, on that point she's mum. If the first claim strains credulity, the second--that she's trying to protect other, unnamed sources--breaks it. Why would Fitzgerald give her assurances later? Perhaps because, while protecting Libby, she never asked the first time around. Again, the Miller we see in Miller's description has high and virtuous motives, but they don't quite reconcile with the Miller we see.
And that's really the sense you get as you read through the article--we see one Miller, above the law and a paragon of jounalistic ethics and industry. Yet we have reasons to believe that that Miller may be as much a figment of her imagination as were the WMD she helped hype in the run-up to the war.
As an "embedded" reporter covering the search for what she calls "unconventional weapons," Miller received intelligence clearances that other reporters and her bosses at the Times
didn't get. She was on a first-name basis with the powerful players in the military and the White House. There seems, thoughout her account, evidence that she had become too close to the stories and subjects to which she had unique access.
Listen to this strange exchange between Libby and Miller:
My recollection, I told him, was that Mr. Libby wanted to modify our prior understanding that I would attribute information from him to a "senior administration official." When the subject turned to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Libby requested that he be identified only as a "former Hill staffer." I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.
Did Mr. Libby explain this request? Mr. Fitzgerald asked. No, I don't recall, I replied. But I said I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson.
Miller agreed to misname Libby in order to protect him so he could more effectively attack Wilson in Miller's article. How can that be anything but advocacy? Miller seems to have shifted her allegiance from telling her readers the truth to telling her informants' story.
The result is that this piece, like her previous reports, feels compromised. She was "embedded" in Iraq, but her account makes her seem like a White House reporter embedded in the New York Times. I don't have any opinion on whether this advocacy was willful partisanism or the result of a system badly out of whack. Whatever the case, it looks like she's done protecting the White House (85 days in the pokey gave her time to reconsider her position). Listen to her characterization of the letter Libby wrote releasing her to testify:
Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to read the final three paragraphs aloud to the grand jury. "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me," Mr. Libby wrote.
The prosecutor asked my reaction to those words. I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.
I think Judy Miller is still interested in protecting her own reputation. Libby, however, is on his own.
Update: Other sources: Howard Kurtz | Editor and Publisher on the security clearance Judy received ("This is as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists and the New York Times (if it knew) should never have allowed her to become so compromised.") | Press Think | CJR Daily
*Background on the Plame Affair here. Judith Miller is a writer for the New York Times who wrote several articles in the build-up to the Iraq war that were favorable to the administration's case--and ultimately proven false. She was one of several journalists caught up in a probe, about whether the White House had illegally leaked the name of a CIA operative, conducted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. She went to prison to protect her contact with the White House, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.