Suddenly. it's 'he said, she said'

Beleaguered reporter Judith Miller tells a different story from her New York Times boss

November 12, 2005|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

Now begins the spin.

Just days after the resignation of Judith Miller from The New York Times in a case that has roiled the paper's staff and the institution itself, both Miller andThe Times' publisher have begun trying to repair their respective reputations.

Freed from having to toe the company line, Miller appeared on CNN's Larry King Live on Thursday night and said she had been "stunned and saddened" by attacks from colleagues, but that she would not have acted differently during her 28 years at the paper.

"I've been very proud of my career there," said Miller, 57, who had hoped to return to The Times but left it on Wednesday under a cloud brought about, most recently, by her actions in relation to White House leaks of a CIA agent's name. She called The Times "an extraordinary institution filled with enormously talented people."

But two hours after Miller's interview on CNN, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., a friend of Miller's long before he became the paper's publisher and her stalwart supporter as she faced jail this summer, distanced himself from her. "I had no unique and special relationsip with Judith Miller," he said in an appearance on PBS' Charlie Rose Show.

"There is no truth that I protected her because she was Judy Miller," Sulzberger said. "We would have done the same for any reporter."

Coming just two years after the Jayson Blair scandal, in which a staff reporter plagiarized and fabricated stories, the turmoil over Miller has re-opened a window intoThe Times' inner sanctum and prompted intense scrutiny of the paper that is widely considered the best in the country.

UNKNOWN_HIBIT_c0 UNKNOWN_HIBIT_f4 UNKNOWN_HIBIT_c0 "Because The Times is the biggest national newspaper, in terms of reputation, people look at it more, they question it more," said Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, Calif. "What's happened in the wake of Judy Miller is people saying, `I told you The New York Times is an establishment paper - they're doing the bidding of the [Bush] administration.'"

The Miller affair played out under the full glare of national attention. Citing First Amendment protections and the journalism tradition of shielding anonymous sources, Sulzberger and Bill Keller, The Times' executive editor, initially backed Miller. She went to jail on July 6 rather than reveal her source - I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff - for the identity of the CIA agent, Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was subsequently indicted on charges that he obstructed justice and gave false statements to federal investigators.

But after serving 85 days in jail, Miller came under severe criticism from fellow journalists, many within The Times itself, for what they considered were lapses in her work surrounding the Libby matter. They accused her of, among other things, not cooperating with Times reporters working on the story about her case and of being less than forthright in her dealings with editors.

She had already been criticized in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when some of her articles indicated her sources' belief in the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Those sources, she admitted later, were wrong.

Yesterday, appearing on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, Miller clarified that she had not been "driven out" of The Times.

"It was becoming time to leave The Times anyway, because I wanted to speak out more on issues I care about," said Miller, who intends to take time off and then perhaps write a book.

On King's show, Miller said there was "a kind of lingering fury" among Times staff members over her WMD reporting. King asked Miller to explain her reaction to an Oct. 22 column in The Times by Maureen Dowd that was headined "Woman of Mass Destruction" and in which she wrote that Miller, "in need of a tight editorial leash, was kept on no leash at all."

"It's painful because she had come to see me in jail and had not written anything about that," Miller said of her former colleague. "It was painful because I hadn't expected it."

While her interview with King was even-keeled and pleasant, Miller's next appearance, on Friday's Morning Edition on National Public Radio, was less so.

Her interviewer, Renee Montagne, challenged Miller over her agreement to identify Libby as a "former Hill staffer," instead of, more accurately, as a Bush administration official, Miller said such deals were "very common" practice in Washington. "I agreed to listen to the information in that way, that's all," Miller said. She said she would probably have changed the attribution, with his permission, had she written a story about the case.

When Montagne suggested that such an agreement showed Miller was too close to her source, Miller snapped, "Renee, I am not going to argue with you about this."

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