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Times reporter criticized for her missteps

Howard Kurtz Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Media analysts assailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller and her editors Sunday for what they called a series of missteps and questionable decisions revealed in two lengthy articles about the problems of covering the CIA leak investigation while defending the embattled journalist.

Alex Jones, a former Times reporter who heads the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, noted the paper’s disclosure that Executive Editor Bill Keller had told Miller in 2003 she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons of mass destruction after some of her stories turned out to be wrong.

“If the New York Times does not trust Judy Miller to do stories in her area of expertise, what do they trust her to do, and why should we trust what she does?” Jones asked. “She’s a great, energetic talent, but investigative reporters need to be managed very closely, and her characterization of herself as Miss Run Amok is something an institution like the New York Times can’t afford.”

Critics inside and outside the paper said they were amazed Miller would not answer questions about her dealings with editors or show her notes to colleagues investigating the matter. They were equally surprised Keller and Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. left most legal decisions to Miller without pressing her about her conversations with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, or asking to see her notes during the battle that landed her in jail for nearly three months.

Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, said Miller’s limited cooperation was “unforgivable” and provided “dead giveaways of someone who’s hiding the truth.”

“I just don’t think there is any more Judy Miller credibility,” Rosen said, while crediting Times editors with “telling some uncomfortable truths about themselves.” He predicted Miller will not return to the Times after a leave during which she plans to write a book – a view shared by a number of her colleagues.

In Sunday’s Times, Miller said Libby had told her on two or three occasions that Valerie Plame, the wife of a White House critic, worked at the CIA. She said she agreed to testify in the case only after Libby persuaded her to accept a waiver of their confidentiality agreement that his lawyer says was available all along.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, applauded the Times for its “candor” in revealing “a serious divide within the paper” about Miller and management’s handling of the case. But, he said, “the acknowledgment that the editor and publisher of the paper did not know what Miller’s source had told her is remarkable. … It is still not clear entirely what principle Miller felt she was protecting that also allowed her to testify. Is it the waivers? Or is it that she just got tired of jail and scared she might have to stay there?”

Craig Pyes, a former contract writer for the Times who teamed up with Miller for a series on al-Qaida, said Sunday he had no problem with the articles as published, which helped win one of two Pulitzer Prizes he shared at the paper. Miller, who is traveling, did not respond to a phone message and her attorney declined to comment.

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