WEEKEND LETTERS: Why Bill Keller Wants to Turn The Page on Judy Miller

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By: E&P Staff

Today’s mail bag brings, among others, a response from William E. Jackson to our article on April 12 covering New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller’s online reply to a reader re: the aftermath of the Judith Miller controversy. Jackson penned about a dozen columns for E&P on the Miller affair starting in mid-2003.

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It’s a Little Galling

Out of the blue comes yet another suspect Bill Keller
defense of how he handled the Judith Miller WMD misreporting scandal; and another lame rationalization of The Times? role in the Plame/Libby/Miller legal case.

On the one hand, Keller argues, the NYT front page is not so influential as to mightily help set the stage for war in Iraq; and, on the other hand, the paper is obviously so much more credible and important than those damn bloggers. Let’s not forget that Keller said, refering to Miller in New York magazine in 2004, “It’s a little galling to watch her pursued by some of these armchair media ethicists who have never ventured into a war zone or earned the right to carry Judy’s laptop.”

It is clear Keller senses that history will likely judge harshly his and publisher Sulzberger?s handling of Miller, from 2003 to 2005. Moreover, his repeated mea culpas are a sign that there is still real unhappiness in The Times family — and obviously among the readers — over the WMD/Miller stain. For it serves to partially blot out the impressively revitalized coverage of national security matters by the re-organized Washington bureau.

In responding to continuing critical queries about Miller’s sensational but incurious reporting on the quest for WMD in Iraq, and spotty-at-best coverage of the Plame-Libby legal case, Keller ?sighs? and plaintively asks what more could an executive editor have done? Quote: ?I can?t imagine that there is anything to say about the Judy Miller episode that I have not already said?over and over.? Over and over, indeed, with little variation and scant imagination, on one of the darkest chapters in recent American journalism.

Ah, but ?the story has an afterlife? — alas — ?in the impending trial of Scooter Libby.? Keller is spinning public opinion. In the leadup to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, both the White House and The Times have an afterlife?or a hangover?relevant to that trial. And the obfuscations of both institutions cloak a multitude of sins.

Miller having left The Times, Keller has ?little to add that
has not been already copiously covered in the pages? of the paper of record. Really? He means that there is not any more he cares to reveal to his reporters, and readers. Yet, ?I had a lot of reasons for not? publishing the tame and belated mea culpa about Times WMD coverage back in 2004. Let him now tell us about the reasons other than the priority of ?protecting an errant reporter? vs. ?coming clean with readers.?

Bill Keller should cease and desist from trying to glorify Judy Miller?s conduct, and the self-inflicted damage to The New York Times, with descriptions of her case as ?the leading edge of a serious and continuing threat to fearless journalism,? while wrapping the whole schmeer in the
colorful package of ?an alarming assault on our ability to explain how the government and other powerful institutions work.? For the sake of the Fourth Estate, give it up, man.

William E. Jackson, Jr.
Davidson, N.C.


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Just Like Thumb Drives Blues

Re: ‘L.A. Times’ Afghan Horror Story Confirmed by NBC”, E&P, April 13.

There are only a few businesses that sell thumb drives in my town. Does it NOT seem odd that a “bazaar” out in the friggin middle of nowhere in Afghanistan is selling used thumb drives? What kind of demand is there for used thumb drives in Afghanistan? This is way too fishy for me to believe at face value. Your report seems to be on the smoke screen….. what is the story behind the smoke?

Let me know if you filter through and discover something.

Norman Black
Ormond Beach, Fla.

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