Saturday, October 15, 2005

Times Editor Says She Regrets Miller Case

By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 52 minutes ago

Shortly after tasting freedom for the first time in nearly three months, New York Times reporter Judith Miller went for a massage and a manicure. She enjoyed a martini, a steak dinner and the fresh air.

That was the easy part. The once-jailed reporter's subsequent return to the paper's 43rd Street newsroom, where she was viewed as a polarizing figure, was fraught with anxiety. She found her co-workers "confused and perplexed" about her jail term for protecting a Bush administration source, and about her paper's apparent inability to rein in the Pulitzer Prize- winner, according to a lengthy article posted Saturday on the Times' Web site.

The article was the newspaper's first behind-the-scenes look at the information provided to Miller by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and how it landed her behind bars for 85 days. It marked the second time in 2 1/2 years that the paper published an investigation of itself, following the 2003 Jayson Blair plagiarism and fraud debacle.

Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson, asked what she regretted about the Times' handling of the Miller case, replied simply: "The entire thing."

Miller defended herself in the piece, saying the paper had "everything to be proud of and nothing to apologize for."

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating whether crimes were committed when Bush administration officials leaked the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters. Plame's covert status was exposed at a time when her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was charging that the White House manipulated intelligence about Iraq's nuclear capabilities before the war.

Miller, 57, was released Sept. 29 after being jailed for her steadfast refusal to identify the source who leaked her the information. After getting the source's direct approval, she finally identified him as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.

In a separate first-person piece on the Times' Web site, however, she said she testified before a grand jury that she could not recall if Libby was the source who told her about "Valerie Flame," as the name appeared in her notebook.

"Mr. Fitzgerald asked me about another entry in my notebook, where I had written the words "Valerie Flame," clearly a reference to Ms. Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald wanted to know whether the entry was based on my conversations with Mr. Libby. I said I didn't think so. I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall," she wrote.

The Times' companion story portrayed Miller as a divisive figure in the newsroom, with a few colleagues refusing to work with her. She was quoted as once telling a colleague, "I can do whatever I want."

Along with the freedom came problems. Miller's articles about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the months before the war were "totally wrong," she acknowledged in one of the stories posted Saturday. Previously, the Times had published an editor's note criticizing some of its prewar coverage; five of the six stories labeled as questionable were written or co-written by Miller, but the note did not specifically name her.

Todd S. Purdum, a Washington-based reporter for the newspaper, said many on the staff were "troubled and puzzled by Judy's seeming ability to operate outside of conventional reportorial channels and managerial controls."

The article noted that editors "found her hard to control," and that the paper's management allowed Miller to make many of the major decisions in the Plame case herself. For example, it said, Executive Editor Bill Keller and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. never reviewed the notes of her crucial conversation with Libby.

"This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk," Sulzberger was quoted as saying.

Recent stories indicated morale in the Times newsroom was lower than during the Blair fiasco, which led to the resignation of Executive Editor Howell Raines. The Times story pointed out that the paper was scooped on the Miller story more than once, and that Keller — who knew the source's identity — kept it from his own reporters.

It also noted that, after Miller's release, she made a newsroom speech "claiming victories for press freedom. Her colleagues responded with restrained applause, seemingly as mystified by the outcome of her case as the public."

Miller, one of a team of Times reporters that won a 2002 Pulitzer for coverage of the Middle East, was in Los Angeles on Saturday at a California First Amendment Coalition event to present an award to perhaps the most famous confidential source ever — W. Mark Felt, the former FBI official known as "Deep Throat." She declined to say anything beyond what appeared in the Times' stories.

Although the paper was resolute in its support of Miller, championing its reporter in more than 15 editorials, Keller acknowledged in the Times' lengthy piece that it was a less-than-ideal case for their efforts.

"I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case," he was quoted as saying. "I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage."

As the paper observed, "Neither The Times nor its cause has emerged unbruised."

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New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com

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