By: William E. Jackson, Jr.
Surely Byron Calame, the public editor at The New York Times, has more important things to do than to scold Alessandra Stanley for unfair treatment of Geraldo Rivera. Calame might better spend his time looking into a festering controversy of much greater consequence that has internally “tied the paper in knots” — as described to me by a senior Times employee when referring to the bizarre case of Judith Miller.
But Calame has not yet written a single word about a most public Fourth Estate showdown between Miller — serving time in jail for contempt of court in the Valerie Plame investigation — and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
In fact, it is obvious that the leaders of the Times have made a decision not to order hard reporting on Miller’s involvement in the Plame affair even when there are important new developments. This journalistic void — in the midst of widespread suspicion that Miller’s refusal to testify before a grand jury may reflect a fear of incriminating herself rather than simply betraying a source — is in stark contrast to the editorial page’s unceasing calls for her release.
How might she incriminate herself? On one thing everyone can agree: Miller had extensive sources among national security officials in the Bush White House and cabinet departments. In the early summer of 2003, she was still the lead reporter covering the WMD beat for The Times. Valerie Plame worked on weapons of mass destruction intelligence for the CIA. Miller never wrote an article about Plame. But it is quite possible that Miller discussed Plame’s identity with numerous sources, and may have actually been the “carrier” of the information to some officials.
A special prosecutor armed with information that would allow him to compare and contrast her discussions might very well be in a position to charge her with perjury, or even conspiracy to obstruct justice — if she were found to be in collusion with those officials seeking to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson by revealing the professional identity of his spouse.
A veteran journalist with a major Washington news outlet expressed this understated opinion to me: “My guess is that her conversation or conversations were probably with her usual sources and touched on Wilson’s Op-Ed along with their other common interests.”
The Times does not seem to mind getting scooped by outside rivals in the mainstream press when the revelations cut too close to the bone. After a bold but brief attempt by Doug Jehl on July 28 (“Case of C.I.A. Officer’s Leaked Identity Takes New Turn”) to get executive editor Bill Keller to answer some key questions about the circumstances surrounding her alleged “contemplation” of “reporting” on the exposure of Plame’s identity, the paper has rolled up the carpet on investigating itself.
Moreover, there have been no investigative reports of late that have probed into the particulars of the larger Plame case. Over the last two months, the only story of note in the Times concerned former Sen. Robert Dole’s well-publicized visit to Miller in jail and his service in reading a letter from her after a luncheon address at the National Press Club. (“Bob Dole Issues Jailed Reporter’s Plea,” by Lynnette Clemetson, September 3, 2005).
In the intervening time, several national newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, have run major stories. Newsday disclosed that the subpoena for Miller by the grand jury on August 20, 2004, had asked for all documents relating to any conversations ?between Judith Miller and a government official whom she met in Washington D.C. on July 8, 2003, concerning Valerie Plame Wilson.”
The Washington Post has continued to report on the Plame case and Miller, despite the fact that two of its reporters were subpoenaed by the grand jury, but legal aspects seem to be avoided.
On September 17, Carol Leonnig — in a front-page Post story on Miller titled “Jailed Reporter Is Distanced From News, Not Elite Visitors? — reported that for 30 minutes nearly every day, “the world comes to her” in the form of a ?parade of prominent government and media officials.?
One Washington reporter covering the case observed to me: “I notice that Bob Bennett is now listed as one of Miller’s lawyers; that would explain the PR burst. That’s how he does cases.”
One other press account warrants mention. Reuters’ Adam Entous on Sept. 8 reported that lawyers close to the investigation were detecting signs that the 20-month-long inquiry could be wrapped up within weeks in a final flurry of negotiations and legal maneuvering. Asked if talks were under way with special prosecutor Fitzgerald to secure Miller’s testimony and release, one of Miller’s lawyers, attorney Floyd Abrams, said: “She made a promise and, unless properly released from her promise by her source, she has no choice but to continue to take the position that she’s taking.” He declined comment when asked if Miller had reached out anew to her source for a clear release from confidentiality that would allow her to testify.
There is a huge elephant in the Times building on West 43rd Street, but editors and publisher act as if they do not see it. It is striking that important information that has appeared elsewhere, including certain details about Miller’s meeting with Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff — which is now widely believed to be prosecutor Fitzgerald’s main focus — and John Bolton’s visit to her in jail, have still not been reported in The New York Times. This permits the eminent newspaper to be scooped, not only by its leading competitors, but also by numerous online Web sites and bloggers.
Has The Times opted out of covering all issues related to the role of Judith Miller in the Plame investigation, the most prominent case involving the press and national security to come along in years.? And, if this is true, should not the newspaper explain that decision to its readers, or at least be put on the spot by its public editor?