The Judy File: The Times' Absolutism No Longer So Absolute

Exec Editor Bill Keller told ayesterday that he is no longer “an absolutist” when it comes to revealing confidential sources. Thenew abolutist-lite strategy affords Judy Miller the wiggle-room she needs as she tries to. The question then becomes, will the neocon sources she threw her lot in with give her the fig leaf waiver she is looking for or will they hang her out to dry?
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Further confirming a shift in the New York Times' official thinking on the Judy Miller case, Exec Editor Bill Keller has let it be known that he is no longer "an absolutist" when it comes to revealing the name of confidential sources.

Alert the media.

Taking part Wednesday at CUNY's Graduate J-School in a panel discussion that included Time's Norm Pearlstine and Judy Miller lawyer Floyd Abrams (and helpfully live-blogged by BuzzMachine's always insightful Jeff Jarvis), Keller said that he could imagine revealing a confidential source if the source had willingly released him from his obligation. "I'm not an absolutist on the morality of this," he said.

That's a far cry from the line Keller and the Times have been peddling for months, like when he told CNN soon after Miller was jailed: "The law presented Judy Miller with a choice. She could betray her trust, or she could go to jail. And she took what I believe is the brave and honorable choice. She went to jail…. it just came down to principle."

The Times' new absolutist-lite strategy affords Miller the wiggle-room she needs as she tries to cut a deal with Fitzgerald. The question becomes, will the neocon sources she threw her lot in with give her the fig leaf waiver she is looking for? So far it looks like they'd rather hang her out to dry -- leaving Fitzgerald to proceed without her testimony and Judy facing a potential indictment for criminal contempt.

During the conference, Keller also said that reporters don't have an obligation to protect a source that misled or used them for political reasons. Which is exactly what it says in the Times' ethical guidelines -- and exactly what everyone assumes happened in this case. So why have Keller and the Times been so vociferous in their defense of Miller, who, even if she were not a source, continues to give cover to a source who clearly used reporters to launch a partisan attack?

Pearlstine was even more specific. Asked if he would have done anything differently at the time, he replied: "I would have been more rigorous in questioning at the time we at first received the subpoena whether Karl Rove in fact deserved confidential source status" -- a status Pearlstine said should be reserved for whistle-blowers and people providing information for the public good and not for "a 90-second conversation with the president's spin doctor".

Fleshing out his non-absolutist stance, Keller also said that if it came down to protecting a confidential source or saving lives, he would opt for saving lives.

Okay, but how about saving your paper from destroying its already tarnished reputation?

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