The NYT retreats, incoherently, on Miller.

A mostly political Weblog.
Oct. 24 2005 1:58 PM

The NYT Retreats, Incoherently

An "entanglement" exception to the First Amendment?

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[Conflict disclosure: I was clerking for an Associate Justice, Stanley Mosk, when Bird arrived at the court. Brown later appointed my father to a seat on Bird's court.]11:57 P.M.

The Bookers' Cry: 'When Does Kristol Dock?' Someday someone will write a good comedy about the strange era in the early 21st century when America's great public intellectuals spent most  of their lives trapped on cruise ships, milking money out of admiring donors. ... P.S.: Pessimists argue that the Internet encourages cocooning and balkanization by giving political publications an incentive to play to their bases. But if there were no Internet there would still be the boats! ... 9:33 P.M. link

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The Times' Incoherent Turn Against Judy Miller: TheNYT's editor, Bill Keller says

[I]f I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises.

Maureen Dowd writes  [$]:

[B]efore turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.

I'm confused. What, exactly, would Keller have learned about Miller--i.e. what does he know now--that would have caused him to change his position on whether the Times would defend her initial refusal to testify? The worst rumor  about Miller, remember--that she told Libby about Plame's employment, rather than hearing about it from him--turns out to apparently not have been true.

Is Keller shocked, shocked to now discover that Miller was 'entangled' with a high-level Bush aide like Libby? And this wasn't already apparent from, say, reading her pieces on WMDs? He knew nothing about how Miller operates? Good reporters get entangled with sources all the time. Does the Times claim that only its reporters who remain clinically uninvolved with real people or their causes get the First Amendment rights the paper righteously demands for itself? You have to be neutral about the plight of the uninsured? If so I can give Keller the names of a half dozen Times reporters to whom the First Amendment doesn't apply. (Jason ... Nina ... John ... Fox ...)

Maybe what Keller would have discovered upon grilling Miller is that she a) had apparently agreed to deceptively identify Libby as "a former Hill staffer", although she didn't actually use that identification  in a story; b) had "misled [Times editor] Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement" in the Plame story; and  c) had offered testimony (e.g., about not remembering who told her the name "Valerie Flame") that lacked credibility. Keller endorses as "just right" an e-mail from reporter Richard Stevenson that says:

"I think there is, or should be, a contract between the paper and its reporters. The contract holds that the paper will go to the mat to back them up institutionally _ but only to the degree that the reporter has lived up to his or her end of the bargain, specifically to have conducted him or herself in a way consistent with our legal, ethical and journalistic standards, to have been open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like, and generally to deserve having the reputations of all of us put behind him or her. [Emph. added]