The exorcism of the New York Times.

Media criticism.
Oct. 20 2005 6:52 PM

The Exorcism of the New York Times

In the name of journalism, the paper must cast out the unclean spirits.

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Today, none of those rationales apply. The Sunday Times account about Miller read alone paints her as an insubordinate, self-serving, and undisciplined menace you couldn't trust to assemble entertainment listings let alone file national-security stories. Conceding in the Times piece that her WMD reporting was "totally wrong," Miller proves she doesn't understand how journalism works when she says, "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them—we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could." That is a lie. Reporters aren't conduits through which sources pour information into newspapers. And sources aren't to blame if a reporter gets a story wrong. A real reporter tests his sources' findings against other evidence in hopes of discovering the truth, something Miller was apparently loath to do.

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Miller's ultramini culpa also slanders the fine reporters at the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank at the Washington Post, Bob Drogin and Maggie Farley at the Los Angeles Times, whom Michael Massing identifiedin the New York Review of Bookslast year as journalists who didn't get the story wrong. You can add to that list the writers of the aforementioned New York Times pieces from late 2002 and very early 2003.

Reading the Times Miller article along with the New York Observer's excellent Miller feature, Christopher Dickey's backhanded defense of Miller in Newsweek, and investigative journalist (and former Miller colleague) Craig Pyes' anti-testimonial in Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz's piece, it's difficult to imagine many of Miller's friends wanting to work with her again, let alone her enemies.

Asking the Times to exhume Miller's work and revisit the methods and practices that led to flawed WMD journalism at the paper isn't a veiled way of asking that witches be arrested for burning at the stake. Journalistic standards were betrayed at the Times. It was the Times, not me, that stated in its May 26, 2004, mini culpa that "the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation" is "unfinished business" and promised that the paper would "continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight." Unless the paper wants to hear Judith Miller's name yodeled with that of Walter Duranty on every occasion Times haters assemble, one last public exorcism must be conducted to drive out the demons forever.

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Interest declared: More than once, Miller has dismissed her critics as opponents of the Iraq war who have singled her out as some sort of scapegoat for their dissatisfaction over U.S. policy. For the record, I supported the invasion. Send e-mail and exorcism tips to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.