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.