First Reactions to Miller Opus: Many Questions Remain

By E&P Staff
Published: October 16, 2005 11:00 AM ET

NEW YORK In appearances on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday morning, CNN’s Frank Sesno, syndicated columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington, and host Howard Kurtz criticized, to varying degrees, The New York Times’ lengthy article on Judith Miller’s involvement in the Plame scandal as insufficient.

In the Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, James Rainey provided instant outside reaction to The New York Times' article Sunday, featuring quotes from ex-Timesmen.

"I don't think the Times looks any better today than it did yesterday," said Adam Clymer, the paper's former chief Washington correspondent, now retired.

"You can't blame her for wanting to get out of jail," said Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. "But this whole thing leaves a very strange aftertaste about Scooter Libby and her relationship with him and whether she is in some fashion protecting him."

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism: "Is it really the waiver [from Libby] that got her to testify? Or was it that she became tired of jail?"

On the CNN show Sunday monring, Sesno called the Times opus an “honest accounting but not a full accounting. There are still a lot of questions and the public has a right to know -- but still does not know,” such as confusion surrounding her long-delayed “waiver” deal.

Huffington said the main unanswered question was: Why did Arthur Sulzberger allow Miller "to hijack" the Times’ newsroom policy on this story?”

Kurtz said he agreed there were still many unanswered questions but, more than those two guests, “I’ll give the paper credit for answering many of them.” But throughout the segment, he raised strong questions about the Times’ mishandling of the Miller affair.

Sesno pointed out that the Times had really suffered because of its weak coverage of this matter and he wondered if “editorial higher-ups” or corporate lawyers discouraged or distorted the paper’s work. He called this an “ugly case” and said it “shows the use and abuse of confidential sources.”

Huffington said she did not buy Miller’s explanation that she could not recall her sources who named Plame, because “after all, her notes were only a few weeks old when Robert Novak’s column came out” and all hell broke loose.

Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and a strong Miller supporter, agreed that Miller allowing I. Lewis Libby to determine how she would describe him in a story (as a former congressional aide rather than as an administration official) was “a little misleading and a little odd.” She defended Miller’s decision to protect a source and called for a federal shield law.

At this, Huffington said, “It’s really time for Lucy and other defenders to update their talking points. It’s clear from today’s articles the Miller was mainly protecting other sources on the leak” and left principles behind eventually because "she got tired of waiting in jail.”

Sesno said that the revelations about the Times’ editor and publisher failing to probe Miller or look at her notes were “a giant shot across the bow of every editor and producer in the business. It shows the need to control reporters and examine what they have.”

Kurtz said he had invited representatives from the Times on the show, but they had refused.

Also on Sunday, Mickey Kaus at the popular blog Kausfiles offered this assessment:

Isn't this a major blow against testimonial immunity for reporters, in practice? Here is how the NYT itself reported the final argument made on behalf of Judith Miller before she was jailed:

Robert S. Bennett, a lawyer for Ms. Miller, urged Judge Hogan to conclude that Ms. Miller would never talk, making confinement pointless.

"It's now clear (Miller's) confinement wasn't pointless. It worked for the prosecutor exactly as intended. After a couple of months of sleeping on 'two thin mats on a concrete slab,' Miller decided, in her words, 'I owed it to myself' to check and see if just maybe Libby really meant to release her from her promise of confidentiality. And sure enough-- you know what?--it turns out he did!

"The message sent to every prosecutor in the country is 'Don't believe journalists who say they will never testify. A bit of hard time and they just might find a reason to change their minds. Judy Miller did.' This is the victory for the press the Times has achieved. More journalists will now go to jail, quite possibly, than if Miller had just cut a deal right away, before taking her stand on 'principle.'"

Finally, James W0lcott at his Vanity Fair blog:

"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."