Candor Time  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   October/November 2005

Candor Time   

The New York Times must tell us the inside story of the Judith Miller case.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


It's time to come clean.

It's been 12 days since Judith Miller reversed field and identified her source to a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a covert CIA agent's identity.

And still no one knows why.

The New York Times has been extremely reticent on the subject. And each passing day it does more damage to its credibility.

It's impossible to imagine the Times being so silent on any other story of this magnitude. Of course, the paper and its controversial reporter are at the heart of the story. That can make covering it embarrassing and painful.

It also makes it essential.

When Jayson Blair's misdeeds came to light, the Times responded with an astonishingly detailed accounting of the saga. It put the paper in an extremely unflattering light. But the paper scored big points by facing up so forthrightly to its problems.

And we moved on.

But now the Times is back in old-school mode, ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away.

But that just doesn't cut it anymore. If you're not sure, ask Dan Rather.

It's bad enough that the Times has been so far behind the curve with new developments, starting when the Philadelphia Inquirer scooped it on Miller's release from jail on September 29.

But what's also been lacking is some explanation from the paper's top leadership as to what the hell is going on.

When Judy Miller went to jail on July 6, proudly proclaiming her determination to protect a source to whom she had promised confidentiality, I wrote that she was an American hero. And if that's indeed what she was doing, I still believe that.

But now I'm confused (I know, not for the first time).

After a string of events triggered by a phone call from Miller's lawyer, Miller testified and was released from jail. What happened?

More than a year ago, Miller's source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, issued a general waiver releasing reporters from their pledges of confidentiality. Miller took the entirely reasonable position that she couldn't be sure the waiver was voluntary. She decided to go to prison rather than ID Libby.

The key event in bringing about Miller's stunning about-face was a phone conversation in which Libby assured her that the waiver hadn't been coerced, that he really meant it. OK so far. But Libby's lawyer says his client's position hadn't changed at all, that such an assurance was available from the get-go.

So what really happened? You'd think if you were on the verge of going to jail, you'd be sure your lawyers did everything they could to find out if there was a way out that was both honorable and painless. Didn't Miller's big-name attorneys do that? Who knows? The Times hasn't told us.

What we really need is one of those mammoth, minute-by-minute tick-tocks making explicitly clear what happened when, and why.

The longer we're in the dark, the worse the Times looks. It begins to look like there's something to hide. And credibility accrues to those nasty theories that Miller really went to jail to salvage her reputation in the wake of the botched WMD coverage.

The Times has had its rough moments in recent years, from Wen Ho Lee to Jayson Blair to its credulous coverage in the run-up to the war in Iraq (it had plenty of company there). But it remains our preeminent newspaper, a critical player in our national debate.

Enough is enough.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Bill Keller fill us in.

It's way past time.

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