By: Jennifer Saba
Thursday evening, The Philadelphia Inquirer accomplished quite a feat: It scooped The New York Times — on its own story, no less.
The Inquirer not only broke the news involving New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s release from jail, but also disclosed that her source was the vice president’s chief of staff.
At 6:40 p.m., the Inquirer posted a story written by staff writers John Shiffman and Steve Goldstein that said Miller was released from jail at 3:55 pm. Miller had been incarcerated at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia since July 6 for refusing to identify a source.
That source, the Inquirer was first to reveal, is I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.
Shiffman, who covers courts for the Inquirer, ?got a very well-sourced tip,” said Joe Tanfani, acting investigations editor at the Inquirer. ?He started writing it in the late afternoon while we were trying to confirm it,? Tanfani explained, adding that officials at the detention center soon verified the story.
Neither Tanfani nor Shiffman would disclose the source of the tip.
The Inquirer posted the story on its Web site Thursday evening, and continued to update it throughout the night.
The Times reported the story on its Web site later that evening. ?We were checking [the Times’] Web site. We thought they would put it up and they didn’t,? Tanfani said.
When asked Friday why the Times did not report the story for several hours after Miller’s release, New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman declined comment.
Shiffman, who works out the Federal District Courthouse in Philadelphia, said he didn’t normally cover the Judy Miller story. “Like all journalists, I followed it very closely and wondered what was going on,” Shiffman said. Last week, he was working out of the Inquirer’s Washington office.
Tanfani has served as acting investigations editor for five weeks. He oversees three reporters, though Shiffman is not one of them. Steve Goldstein, who co-authored the report, is a Washington-based national correspondent for the Inquirer.
Shiffman and Goldstein’s follow-up story was posted Friday morning on the Inquirer’s Web site, but strangely, not a single mention of Miller’s release — or the newspaper’s scoop — was posted on the Inquirer’s homepage.
Miller has been at the center of a firestorm involving the leaked identity of CIA covert officer Valerie Plame. Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is probing the case.
The Inquirer even broke the news to Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. When the Inquirer asked Wilson about Miller’s release, he said, “‘First I’ve heard of it. Personally, I’m glad. Who wants to see a journalist in jail?'”