The first question raised by the Times' Judy-Culpa and by Judy Miller's own account is: Who told Judy about Valerie Plame (or "Flame" as the name appears in Judy's notes)? According to these two pieces, the name was immaculately conceived. "As I told Mr. Fitzgerald, I simply could not recall where that came from," Miller writes.
When the Plame case broke open in July 2003, these notes were presumably no more than a few weeks old. But who had revealed Plame's name was not seared on Miller's mind?
This is as believable as Woodward and Bernstein not recalling who Deep Throat was. It also means that Judy went to jail to protect a source she can't recall.
Update: Not Since Geraldo Cracked Open that Vault...
Now that I have spent a few hours absorbing this latest installment in the ongoing soap opera "Desperate Editors," I can safely say that not since Geraldo cracked open Al Capone's vault has there been a bigger anticlimax or a bigger sham. After all, the question everybody has been asking is: who was the source who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to Judy Miller?
And the answer? She can't remember.
Given the "gee-whiz, it all just sort of, like, happened, and I don't know when or why or where or who..." tone of her mea no culpa , maybe Judy is vying for a role on MTV's "Laguna Beach."
Which is just as well, because if these two articles have revealed anything at all, it's that Judy Miller is no journalist.
Judy Miller: A Victory for Journalism?
The Times articles are inconclusive about a lot of issues, but they are devastatingly conclusive about Miller as a journalist -- including, the confirmation that, within a few weeks of assuming the editorship of the Times, "in one of his first personnel moves, Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues," and including the Times' long-delayed acknowledgement that 5 of the 6 articles in its WMD mea culpa "were written or co-written by Ms. Miller."
Here are some more problems about Miller as a journalist:
Her account of her meetings with Libby shows how off-target her journalistic radar was. Is it because of how off-target her loyalties were? Here is a quote: "My notes do not show that Mr. Libby identified Mr. Wilson's wife by name. Nor do they show that he described Valerie Wilson as a covert agent or "operative..." My notes show? Wasn't she there?
One thing we do know about Judy Miller is that she's no dummy. Whether or not Libby said the words "Valerie Plame," and whether or not Libby knew or revealed that Plame was covert, it's inconceivable that Miller did not know what was going on: a high-level administration official was trying to smear a critic of the administration. That's news. That's something the readers of the New York Times --and the American people -- deserved to know, and yet she did nothing with the information. Indeed, she still calls Libby a "good-faith source who was usually straight with me." Was it an example of Scooter being straight with Judy (and the public) that he asked to be described not as "a senior administration official" (as was their "prior understanding") but as a "former Hill staffer"? "I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill." Mr. Libby had also once been to high school. So how about "former high school student" to really disguise the identity of the White House henchman from her readers?
And here are some questions for Miller's editors:
Did Miller mislead them when she denied that she was one of the journalists to whom White House officials disclosed Plame's identity? Here's the quote from today's article:
"In the fall of 2003, after The Washington Post reported that "two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to at least six Washington journalists," Philip Taubman, Ms. Abramson's successor as Washington bureau chief, asked Ms. Miller and other Times reporters whether they were among the six. Ms. Miller denied it."
If she denied it falsely, is there any journalistic institution in the United States that would keep on a reporter who is dishonest to her editors?
Also, in her interview with the Times reporters, Miller says that she made a strong recommendation that a story be pursued on Joe Wilson, but that her editor rejected it. Problem is, Miller refuses to identify the editor. Jill Abramson, who was the Washington bureau chief at the time, says it was not her. So who was it? And why is Miller refusing to supply the name of the editor? It's not classified. It does not require a waiver. What journalistic rules is she abiding by?
And how overidentified with her sources was she that she felt she "was not permitted to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information" from Libby about Iraq because of the government security clearance she had?
And here is a question for Abramson: she said that she regrets "the entire thing." Can she elucidate what aspects of "the entire thing" she specifically regrets?
Is Anybody Clearer Now About Why Miller Went to Jail?
It is clear from the two Times pieces that Miller did not go to jail because she did not have a voluntary waiver from Scooter Libby -- who, incidentally, we should stop referring to as her source since, according to Miller, he was not the one who revealed to her Valerie Plame's name.
For months, Miller and the Times pooh-poohed waivers, their position most clearly presented by Bill Safire when he testified before Congress on July 20th: "I don't have to pussyfoot about this, because it's a matter of principle. I think waivers of confidentiality are a sham, a snare and a delusion."
Contrary to this stance, it becomes obvious from both Times pieces that Miller was not standing on any lofty principle when she went to jail. As soon as criminal contempt charges or the empanelment of a new grand jury became real possibilities, she chose to do what she could have done before going to jail: reach out to Libby to get a verbal confirmation from him. Even Sulzberger, Judy's staunchest supporter, can no longer utter a ringing endorsement of her: "Maybe a deal was possible earlier... If so, shame on us. I tend to think not." I tend to think not? Is that the best he can do? After the endless absurdities that appeared on the Times editorial page about Judy the Martyr, including, "If she is not willing to testify after 41 days, then she is not willing to testify"?
On Meaningful Sources
Miller refuses to say -- both to the Times reporters and in her own sham of an account -- who else she discussed Valerie Plame with.
Yet, according to today's story, "Mr. Bennett, who by now had carefully reviewed Ms. Miller's extensive notes taken from two interviews with Mr. Libby, assured Mr. Fitzgerald that Ms. Miller had only one meaningful source. Mr. Fitzgerald agreed to limit his questions to Mr. Libby and the Wilson matter."
In what way was Libby the only "one meaningful source," if he didn't leak Plame's identity to Miller? Whoever gave Miller Plame's name was a pretty damned meaningful source. Although evidently not meaningful enough for her to remember who it was.
More to come, including Sunday morning (10 am est, 7 am pst) on CNN's Reliable Sources when I'll be discussing the Times story with Howard Kurtz and others.