Press Secretary Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

Media criticism.
Nov. 11 2005 6:47 PM

Press Secretary Sulzberger

The Times publisher does his skeeziest Scott McClellan on The Charlie Rose Show.

Sulzberger: publisher or flack? Click image to expand.
Sulzberger: publisher or flack?

Notables who ordinarily shun television talk shows make an exception when the Charlie Rose invitation arrives because he offers them such a big, safe, dark room in which to chat. The show's blackened set, the late hour in which it airs, and Rose's protective style suggest a father lulling a child back to sleep after an early night fright.

Rose conducts the show's business as if the interviews belong to the subjects—not to the host—and that they're free to confide as little as they wish without risking his reprimand as long as they allow him to ask his tortured, show-off, preening questions. Yet last night, as New York Times PublisherArthur Sulzberger Jr. consumed the entire hour with bob-and-weave evasions about Judith Miller, even the accommodating Rose had to rebel.

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In the show's opening teaser clip, drawn from the final minutes of the interview, Rose throws his hands up, spreads his fingers, and waves his arms as if the two are playing one-on-one wheelchair basketball and he's attempting to block Sulzberger's shot.

"I'm not satisfied here that I've gotten—that you have been as completely open as I want you to be. Now, that's a decision for you to make, with respect to what this meant for the New York Times, how you saw this," says Rose, voice straining.

"This," of course, is the saga of the ignominious Judith Miller: The journalistic malpractice she committed on the weapons of mass destruction beat; her relentless grandstanding; her petulant insubordination at the paper; the treacherous and devious way she dealt not only with Times colleagues but with her bosses.

Instead of responding to Rose's unusually persistent questions, Sulzberger wheels away from them like a White House flack and attempts to smother the inquiry with words that make it seem as if they've been resolved:

"Our job is to recognize when we make a mistake, learn from the experience, and move on."

"It's been hard on all of us. And—and I think we're now past it."

"The coverage appeared in the New York Times. Flawed, own it, moved on. We made changes."

"What's critical to remember here is that we made errors in our coverage of the weapons of mass destruction. We made them at the reporting level and at the editing level. We owned those errors in a very long and very detailed editors' note, and that was then over."