Monday, October 24, 2005

Open warfare at the Times

By E&P Staff

Published: October 23, 2005 6:45 PM ET

NEW YORK The internecine war over the Judith Miller saga continued this weekend with harsh views of the reporter coming from columnist Maureen Dowd and Public Editor Byron Calame, with Miller and her attorney Robert Bennett hitting back. Dowd even likened Miller to WMD, calling her a "Woman of Mass Destruction," and more gently "the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp."

Newsweek, meanwhile, carried a report on Sunday asserting that "many Times staffers are out for blood. At a contentious meeting in the paper's Washington bureau last week, some reporters and editors demanded Miller's dismissal. In private, some staffers argued the paper had to do more -- sacking Keller or even somehow punishing Sulzberger, whose family controls the Times. 'Judy took advantage of her relationship with the publisher,' said one Times staffer who asked not to be identified because he feared losing his job. 'The publisher should pay the price.'"

A Times spokesman declined to comment.

All of this, and more, caused David Gergen, the former presidential adviser and editor-at-large for U.S. New & World Report, to say that the whole episode was turning "curiouser and curiouser" and that the Times was now engaging in damage control.

Another guest on Howard Kurtz's "Reliable Sources" show on CNN, Ron Brownstein, chief political writer at the Los Angeles Times, said that in the wake of last Sunday's in-depth Times article about the Miller case, it was "almost inevitable there would be further conflict at the paper. Because there were lots of questions that she simply would not answer. All of this tension inside The New York Times -- the really extraordinary thing here is to watch this all play out in public."

On Saturday, Dowd had said, referring to Miller, that investigative reporting is "not stenography," and: "Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers."

On CNN, Brownstein opined that Dowd's message to Miller was, more or less, "Don't let the door hit you on your way out."

Kurtz said that he agreed with Brownstein that he'd "never seen anything quite like this before."

Geneva Overholser, the former editor and Washignton Post ombudsman, added, "Some people believe that her relationship with Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who was a young reporter in Washington with Judy, has been key here. And to me, one of the most important statements we've seen, although it's not nearly as extreme in its wording, is Arthur's statement to Byron Calame in this morning's public editor's column, where he says that Judy and he have agreed that there will be limits to her future, or wording to that effect. I think that's quite extraordinary, because Arthur's role here is so key, obviously."

Gergen said the Times was now engaged in damage control, to a "large extent," pointing fingers at the reporter after backing her so strenuously for months. He said he thinks the paper has awakened to the fact that it "is now tied to Judy Miller, and that its own credibility has been damaged yet again. And for such an important institution in our society, this is a big deal. I think the Times is not only separating itself out from Judy Miller, but they're scrambling to restore their own credibility. I do think that their editorial page now has to address this in a very fair way, and they've got to totally pursue this as if she does not work for them and no longer protect her, but really try to get to the bottom of it, and get the facts out for their own credibility."

He also said that in his view that Miller was "used" by administration officials and Iraqi exiles.

"I think this story is not going to go away," Gergen concluded, "and is not going to be helpful to journalism as a profession at a time, you know, when it's under fire already."

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