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Should The New York Times Fire Judith Miller and Apologize to Readers?

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On Sunday, Miller revealed that she spoke with Scooter Libby about undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame weeks before her name appeared in the press, but Miller claims she can’t remember who leaked the name. Meanwhile it has been revealed Miller had a special Pentagon security clearance and was removed from covering Iraq and WMD stories by her editors. [includes rush transcript]

This weekend, The New York Times published its long awaited account of Judith Miller’s involvement in the Valarie Plame affair. Miller, a New York Times reporter, was released from jail late last month after agreeing to testify before a grand jury investigating who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The Times account revealed several new details about Miller’s conversations with Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney”s Chief of Staff. Libby and President Bush”s Senior advisor, Karl Rove, face possible indictiments for their roles in the affair.

Miller is claiming that she doesn’t know who gave her Plame’s name but admitted discussing her with Libby. Miller’s notes reveal that she wrote the name “Valerie Flame” in the same notebook she used to interview Libby.

The Times report also makes clear that Miller initially believed that Libby”s Lawyer, Joseph Tate was sending her a message that Libby did not want her to testify and was seeking assurances that she would exonerate Libby.

The New York Times coverage also reveals that there has been wide discontent at the paper about its handling of the story and about Miller’s reporting in general.

When asked what she regretted about the newspaper’s handling of the Miller matter, managing editor Jill Abramson said “The entire thing.”

In 2003 the paper’s executive editor Bill Keller told Miller she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Miller had written several of the key articles that claimed Iraq had an extensive weapons of mass destruction program ahead of the Iraq invasion.

Miller even wrote in her own notes “W.M.D. — I got it totally wrong. The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them — we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong.”

In today’s Washington Post, a former colleague of Miller’s revealed that he refused to work with her.

Craig Pyres–who now works with the Los Angeles Times–wrote a memo to his editors five years ago and asked that his byline not appear on one piece. Pyres wrote “I do not trust her work, her judgment, or her conduct. She is an advocate, and her actions threaten the integrity of the enterprise, and of everyone who works with her.... She has turned in a draft of a story of a collective enterprise that is little more than dictation from government sources over several days, filled with unproven assertions and factual inaccuracies.”

Questions are also being raised about Miller’s relationship not just with Libby but with the Pentagon.

Miller revealed in her article that she had a Pentagon security clearance while embedded with US military teams hunting for banned weapons in Iraq.

Retired CBS News correspondent Bill Lynch said, “This is as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists.”

Lynch went on to write “Miller violated her duty to report the truth by accepting a binding obligation to withhold key facts the government deems secret, even when that information might contradict the reportable “facts.””

On the phone to talk with us about these latest developments is Michael Isikoff and Greg Mitchell.

  • Michael Isikoff, investigative reporter with Newsweek. His latest article is about Karl Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin. It is titled “Karl Rove’s Consigliore.”
  • Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher. His most recent column is titled “After 'NY Times' Probe: Keller Should Fire Miller—and Apologize to Readers.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On the phone to talk with us about these latest developments is Michael Isikoff, investigative reporter with Newsweek. His latest article is about Karl Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin. It’s called “Karl Rove’s Consigliore.” We’re also joined on the phone by the editor of Editor and Publisher, Greg Mitchell. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! I wanted to start with Greg Mitchell. Your response to the weekend’s revelations in The New York Times, both the article, the extended article, not written by Judith Miller, and Miller’s report of her four hours of testimony before the grand jury.

GREG MITCHELL: Well, I wrote a column shortly after it came out, saying that Miller must be fired, and that at the minimum, Keller, the editor, owed the readers an apology for what he had allowed to transpire there, basically, as we had been writing for two or three years, that Judith Miller is a train wreck as a reporter and that she has committed deep crimes against journalism.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

GREG MITCHELL: Well, starting with her reporting on Iraq — of course, we don’t want to dwell on that. That’s been written about a great deal in the past, where basically she helped grease the path to war, which is bad enough, but her conduct in the whole Plame affair, both in terms of what she admits in her article in the Times on Sunday, that she cannot remember any of the people who mentioned Valerie Plame to her, which is absolutely impossible to believe.

I think one key thing we have to point out — often in these cases when people search their memories from a couple of years back, you can sometimes believe they can’t remember such a thing, because something did not seem important at the time, but this period where more than one person leaked Plame’s name to Miller, of course, that blew up into a front page story after the Robert Novak column. So there’s absolutely no way she would have forgotten that information at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by her Pentagon clearance?

GREG MITCHELL: No. We reported it — I believe we were first to report it in September 2003. In fact, we have sort of rerun that article on our web site today, in which we revealed that status and raised questions about it at the time. The reason it’s significant — and I’m sure some listeners are wondering why that’s significant in the Plame case — is because as the Times articles this weekend made clear, as Miller admitted, Libby discussed classified information with her. So, this would make him indictable for breaking the Espionage Act, particularly if she did not have any clearance. So, it’s incredibly relevant to the Plame investigation right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff, your response, overall, but then specifically about what this means for Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, the reports this weekend in your rival, Time, that Karl Rove and Libby will either resign or take a paid leave of absence, if they’re indicted.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: That’s inevitable. You can’t serve at a high level of the United States government in the White House if you are under indictment. So, I don’t think it’s any surprise. I think everybody would expect, if they are indicted, they would at a minimum have to take a temporary leave and couldn’t continue to serve.

I — you know, look, clearly, the Judith Miller testimony, as described in her own account and in the Times article, is problematic for Libby. I mean, it clearly implicates him in discussing Joe Wilson’s wife’s employment at the C.I.A. prior to the time that it was — to the Robert Novak column, and that’s been a central thrust to the investigation.

What’s fascinating, if you read Judy Miller’s account closely, is it’s very clear she is still trying to be protective of Scooter Libby, and in fact, as I sort of reread it this morning, I saw point by point where, if she is on the stand, as presumably she would be, if Libby gets indicted and the case goes to trial, the defense lawyer for Libby could go through her account and find passages where she is giving information that could be helpful to Libby’s defense. She has the classified clearance. He didn’t mention that she was a covert operative. In fact, she assumed from what he told her that she was an analyst, and not an operative. Point by point, you can go through that, and you know, I think — and my guess is that Judy Miller is, you know, agonizing, herself, didn’t want to testify at all, still feels a loyalty to her source, and is still trying to be protective of him.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Robert Luskin, Karl Rove’s lawyer?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, he has been — he’s a fascinating character in this, because he has been one of the few lawyers who has talked to the press about the investigation, and, of course, he has provided shifting explanations at every stage of the game. Now, part of this may simply reflect the shifting accounts of his client, Karl Rove, which is why he had had to make a fourth grand jury appearance last week and why he is very much in the focus of Fitzgerald’s investigation.

But remember, you know, when he is first interviewed, Rove tells — does not disclose his conversation with Matt Cooper about Joe Wilson’s wife, both to the F.B.I. and to the grand jury. Then an email surfaces that he wrote to Steven Hadley, belatedly — nobody knew about this at the time — that Rove wrote right after his conversation with Cooper, in which he said — just had a conversation with Cooper, he called me about welfare reform, then switched the subject. So, Rove went back, amended his testimony and said he had talked to Cooper. Yes, he had talked to Cooper, but it was about welfare reform and then a brief discussion of the Niger controversy, and then, you know, over the summer, we first reported the Cooper email showing that the conversation was really about Wilson, Wilson’s wife, the Niger controversy, and as Cooper later said, had really nothing to do — in fact, had nothing to do with welfare reform at all. And I think that’s the reason. It’s these sort of shifting accounts, and Luskin at every stage of the game has provided a sort of different explanation of the chain of events. I think it’s more a reflection of the different explanations of his client.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mitchell, of Editor and Publisher, what about the level to which Judith Miller has clearly, right until now, dictated the coverage in the lead-up to war and now the coverage of the whole Valerie Plame case?

GREG MITCHELL: Well, it’s amazing the way she hijacked the newsroom there and prevented the Times itself from writing much about her case, and as we learned perhaps most shockingly, for those who can still be shocked about this, yeah, Keller himself and possibly others at the papers killed stories or prevented stories from being reported on the broader Plame case starting this past summer, because they were afraid that they might anger the prosecutor, Fitzgerald, or somehow raise further problems for her.


GREG MITCHELL: Well, it’s simply they were afraid — they were putting the protection of her or any danger for her that could occur in any of their reporting over the public’s right to know or the newspaper’s mission. They didn’t want to report stories, even that were not directly related to her case, that might make the prosecutor mad, in which case he would be tougher on her.

AMY GOODMAN: But specifically, the pieces that they killed?

GREG MITCHELL: Well, they were pieces related to the Plame probe. I’m not sure that the Times story this weekend was that specific on what they were. There were numerous, as it was described, numerous stories and story ideas that were submitted to Keller or other editors that the order came down from on top. And this was the problem throughout this entire period. The publisher and the editor of the paper were so concerned about the Miller case that they were — they allowed that case to consume their concerns, and dictate the coverage, and this is, you know — this is simply unacceptable, and why so much of the Times newsroom was in turmoil over this.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of Judith Miller being taken off covering weapons of mass destruction.

GREG MITCHELL: Well, again, the revelation in the Times stories was that Bill Keller took her off that, which, you know — I’m not sure he’s supposed to get any credit for that. It seemed to be a no-brainer when she had provided possibly the worst coverage of any major reporter on that subject, but his incredible admission that even though he, as the editor of the paper, had ordered her off, somehow she kept wheedling her way back onto the beat. And what an admission for the top editor to say he could not control her, and I think that’s the thread that runs through all this is the incredible things that the leadership at the paper allowed her, the special privileges that were given to her, that she was able to run, as she called herself — “Miss Runamok” was her nickname for herself. And there’s an incredible hidden story there on how Judith Miller was given this — especially given her track record on W.M.D.’ s, it would seem like she should have been the one person that you would rein in, not the one person that you would let run free.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Amy, if I could make one additional point about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff of Newsweek.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: I think the larger point here about what this tells us about the reporting on Iraqi W.M.D. prior to — in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and there’s an absolutely fascinating passage in Judy Miller’s account, in which she is describing her conversation with Scooter Libby and in which Libby is clearly trying to make the point that the administration’s and Vice President Cheney’s pressing of the argument that Iraq had an ongoing nuclear weapons program was actually stronger than the public knew.

And at that point, a declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Iraq did have a nuclear weapons program had been made public, but it was a partial portion of that N.I.E. at this point in the conversation, and Judy Miller writes that she’s pressing Scooter Libby for more information from the classified — still classified version of the N.I.E. Libby tells her that those portions which he can’t discuss actually show stronger intelligence indicating an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

Well, since then, that N.I.E. has been declassified, and the portions that were not yet public actually undercut the premise of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, or at least raised questions about it, showed that there were dissents within the bureaucracy from — the State Department dissented, the Energy Department dissented, yet here is Scooter Libby telling Judy Miller what you can’t see is stronger, when in fact it was weaker. And I think that, you know, if you take a step back from the blow by blow on the Joe Wilson’s wife matter, that may be the larger point, by suggesting the intelligence was stronger — intelligence that was not shared with the public — when in fact it was much weaker.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the naming of the congressional source, the identifying — rather, the identifying of the anonymous source, an interesting point within this piece, where Libby tells Judith Miller he wants to be identified as a former congressional staffer, how this government official is being protected at every level by The New York Times. And I also want to take this issue to broader than Judith Miller. But that he, you know, clearly doesn’t want to be in any way figured out. And she agrees to “former congressional staffer,” because at one point in his life, he worked on the Hill.

GREG MITCHELL: Well, it’s — again, one reason why I called for her to be fired immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mitchell.

GREG MITCHELL: It’s an incredible, you know, lack of journalistic ethics, and someone who would agree to that, to — and basically goes along with the shielding and working hand in glove with the administration on these stories, reveals as much as anything how Judith Miller was — her prime concern was not journalism, was not The New York Times, was not the public’s right to know, or the readers, but in furthering the case and protecting the case of the administration to — and basically the significance of it is that she was trying to get the information out, but without linking it back to the administration or the Vice President’s office. So, if you want to use a confidential source — and here she is the First Amendment martyr. She’s the person who is going around the country and about to pick up an award tomorrow, in fact, for being a hero of the First Amendment, and yet in dealing with this source, she did everything to protect where this information was coming from by agreeing to describe him as a former congressional Hill staffer, as opposed to someone in the administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Mitchell, you write, after New York Times probe, Keller should fire Miller, the editors should fire Miller and apologize to readers, but let’s take this higher up than Judith Miller. She doesn’t just write an article in the Times and it’s immediately printed. It gets approved by editors. She often writes it with other reporters at the Times. It goes right on up. You have the Times correction, what, a year ago, about their coverage. They don’t even name Judith Miller or her colleagues who have written these pieces. Why stop at Judith Miller?

GREG MITCHELL: Well, on that point, it gets a little complicated, because Howell Raines was the editor during her prewar and immediately post-war — or post-invasion writing on W.M.D.s. Keller came in in July of that year. However, he was there when they took months and months to run any kind of corrective on her reporting, and he was there when that correction when it did appear — well, it wasn’t really a correction, when that editor’s note did appear, did not name her, and offered no apology, and basically soft-sold the correction.

So, yes, he is on the hook for that, but he was not there for her original reporting. However, he has been there in this period since the Plame case began, really, and has handled her reporting or non-reporting or the newspaper’s conduct during this entire affair. So, he and publisher Sulzberger are certainly on the hook for what has happened. And, you know, there will be — this discussion is really only started and is going to go on for quite some time.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher, and Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek.

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