No Future In Miller's Dreaming

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If, as Matt Welch suspects, you're reaching your limit of Judith Millerism, relief may soon be on the way. New York Times executive editor Bill Keller's staff memo sure doesn't sound like something you'd write about an employee you're fixing to retain:

I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the leak investigation, I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of my own. It is a natural and proper instinct to defend reporters when the government seeks to interfere in our work. And under other circumstances it might have been fine to entrust the details _ the substance of the confidential interviews, the notes _ to lawyers who would be handling the case. But in this case I missed what should have been significant alarm bells. Until Fitzgerald came after her, I didn't know that Judy had been one of the reporters on the receiving end of the anti-Wilson whisper campaign. I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel, a year after the fact. (In November of 2003 Phil Taubman tried to ascertain whether any of our correspondents had been offered similar leaks. As we reported last Sunday, Judy seems to have misled Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement.) This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper.

Miller lawyer Bob Bennett comes back with the Mr. Blonde argument—that Miller deserves a job because she did time for her boss: "She may be controversial in some things, but the bottom line is she spent 85 days in jail, mostly on a principle which the New York Times fully encouraged her to assert."

Will Miller burn down her Massa's house? One Joe Gandelman, who ominously identifies himself as "someone who was in daily journalism for some years," considers that possibility:

What's at stake? REPUTATIONS:

  • Miller wants to write a book. If she emerges from this with her reputation destroyed, her book will wind up remaindered like that of serial plagiarizer and quote-inventor Jayson Blair. He left the Times in disgrace, had a book highly touted on TV but, despite publicity (from media types such as Katic Couric), it bombed at the bookstores. Miller also wants to be able to emerge from this with some kind of a journalistic future. Right now even Fox News might think twice.
  • The Times has been battered by a series of scandals over the past few years and a sense that its best days as "the paper of record" were behind it. The new administration wants to reverse this trend and some of the issues raised by Miller's involvement raise questions about the quality of its administration in terms of scrutiny of employees — and its judgment calls.

So reputations — and big bucks—are at stake here.

I think the Times has little to lose in all this. Standing by an embattled reporter, giving the benefit of the doubt to a Pulitzer winner, and getting lied to by a trusted employee are all actions that should generate sympathy for the paper. Not that a big institution wants to be pitied, but I don't think there'd be much of a case for casting the paper as the bad guy for firing Miller at this point.

NEXT: Wake Up Maggie, I Think I've Got Something to Say to You

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  1. I still think it was wrong to jail her, but that does not excuse the fact that Miller is a poor journalist who, despite whatever awards she received in the past, has now committed at least two acts for which anyone else would have been fired.

    If the “New York Times” wants to restore its reputation as a great newspaper- and I still think they can- they need to clean house by cutting Miller loose and at least suspending Keller.

  2. when journalists start spouting the company line in order to advance their career, it’s bad.
    when they pass on false information , knowingly, it’s really bad.
    when they participate in the cover-up of the company lies, it’s time to shut out the lights.
    good-bye and good riddance, judith miller

  3. Cavanaugh, you give wonderful blog, but sometimes the allusions are just too thick and chewy. Is “No Future In Miller’s Dreaming” a reference to MC Breed?

    Check out that fat guy, dancing.

  4. but the bottom line is she spent 85 days in jail, mostly on a principle which the New York Times fully encouraged her to assert.”

    Yeah, it had nothing to do with the fact that if anyone ever found out how deep in shit she was, she’d be looking at a ot more than some contempt charge. It’s a lot better to wave the First Amendment around than talk about your role as a political hack.

  5. Is “No Future In Miller’s Dreaming” a reference to MC Breed?

    I suspect that it refers to the line ‘No future in England’s dreaming’ from The Sex Pistol’s “God Save the Queen”

  6. If she gets fired, she’ll eventually get hired as an analyst by Fox News. It may take a few years before they figure the smell has gone, but they’d hire her.

    And there’s always the Washington Times…

  7. “Mr. Blond argument” – that’s awsome.

    The Boston Globe has been a better “paper of record” than the Times for a decade, at least. Smart of the Timesies to leave well enough alone when they bought the Globe.

  8. I guess there’s a lot of Miller stories out there, but it occurs to me that if one really suffers from Miller overdose, one should is just paying too damn much attention to stuff that doesn’t matter.

    Because if what there is to read right now was important, one wouldn’t feel like there’s too much of it. Either what there is to read right now isn’t important, because everything will sort itself out, or the whole thing isn’t important.

    Stuff involving the government tends to skew that way, doesn’t it? It tends to get more attention than it deserves?

  9. The Boston Globe has been a better “paper of record” than the Times for a decade, at least. Smart of the Timesies to leave well enough alone when they bought the Globe.

    Well, the Globe had Barnicle and that lady who was also pinched for making stuff up. So I’d say the Globe fits right in with the Times these days, although the Globe’s sports page is about 1000 times better than the Times (Shaunessy excepted, of course).

    Plus, when I lived there, it seemed the Globe would run stereotypically hilarious Massachusetts liberal editorials about, oh, twice a week. I’m sorry, I just can’t take Joe Kennedy II and Mike Capuano seriously as statesmen.

  10. Cedarburg, joe,

    I might snarkily add, is this the same Boston Globe that passed along pr0n pics as evidence of torture? I think it’s better for us, and the papers for that matter, to not have a “paper of record” at all. Apparently, all credibility corrupts, but absolute credibility . . .

  11. God knows this whole Miller/Times spat has been keeping me up at nights.

  12. Less Judy Miller, more Jerry Stiller!

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