Is Judy Miller Worse for the Times than Jayson Blair?

Unlike certain folks who hang around this blog--and I'm not saying who--I am not big on New York Times-bashing. It's hard to put out on a daily basis what is essentially a book. (It takes most publishers nine months to do that.) But the paper does seem more and more to deserve the wallop it's been taking on the Judy Miller front, and I'm beginning to wonder if Miller has, in a way, done more to diminish the credibility and reputation of the nation's leading paper than did fabulist Jayson Blair.

After all, Blair merely bamboozled his editors--and the paper's readers. Miller is forcing the paper's editors to engage in gyrations that make them appear to be news spinners not journalists. When the news broke that Miller had cut a deal with Patrick Fitzgerald, the Times account was so convoluted it was practically unreadable. (The lawyers must have gotten to the article, one Times person told me.) And as Editor & Publisher noted today, the Times has repeatedly been scooped on the Miller story:

Last week, the paper was late in revealing that Miller had left jail. Thursday it was behind the curve in disclosing that the federal prosecutor in the Plame case had scheduled another meeting with Miller next week. And Friday, it was scooped by, first, the New York Observer (a weekly) and then Reuters, in reporting the rather significant news that Miller had somehow discovered notes of a conversation with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby that took place about two weeks before the discussions that were the focus of her testimony to the grand jury last week. This was significant enough, Reuters reports, that the newly-found notes could help form the basis for a wide-ranging conspiracy charge.

When the Times did get around to covering this latest development, it provided few details, such as how, why and when the discovery took place, or why the newspaper has been so slow to cover its own employee. This was the extent of its report on this fresh angle:

"The meeting [on Tuesday] is expected to focus on newly discovered notes compiled by Ms. Miller that refer to a conversation she had with Mr. Libby on June 25, 2003, according to a lawyer in the case who did not want to be named because Mr. Fitzgerald has cautioned against discussing the case. Until now, the only conversations known to have occurred between Ms. Miller and Mr. Libby were on July 8 and 12, 2003."

Reading the Times on this critical story has unfortunately become like reading a state-owned newspaper on the conduct of its government-owner. Why cannot the Times tell us how these "newly discovered" notes were discovered? Or what they say? As HuffPost Head Honcho Arianna Huffington has noted once or twice, Time's Matt Cooper has told much--though not all--about his involvement in the case. Yet the Times comes up with a formulation bordering on magic--"newly discovered"--to describe (without explaining) the appearance of new evidence in this case.

Karl Rove or other top Bush officials may be staring down the barrel of an indictment. This all could become the Big Story of the day. Yet the Times seems to have tied itself up in a straitjacket. Why? To protect Judy Miller? To protect itself from Judy Miller? I don't know. Prior to the Plame/CIA leak scandal (a.k.a. the Rove scandal), Miller had already tainted the paper's reputation in a more significant manner than had Blair with her war-greasing stories on WMDs in Iraq that--whaddayaknow--didn't exist. These days she appears to be causing the Times to screw up its coverage of the most significant scandal yet to strike the Bush administration. Now this, we can say, is a journalist who has an impact.

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