And You Call Us Unreliable?
Bill Keller dips his toe into online interactivity with a canned Q&A:
Q. In a scandal-filled few years for The Times -- Jayson Blair, Rick Bragg, Wen Ho Lee — the Judith Miller affair remains an unhealed, still-oozing wound. Miller has created a Web site on which she offers refutation to virtually everything you, Jill Abramson, and others have said about her misreporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and her subsequent misadventures.
The investigative report that appeared on the front page of The Times a few months ago by way of exegesis raised more questions than it answered, and it portrayed Miller as a loose cannon and a ditzy prima donna whose reportorial methods were often questionable.
Those of us who sought thoughtful information on the Miller fiasco were forced to consult bloggers for insight in the wake of The Times’ silence. Why was Miller, after having dropped the ball (to put it mildly), allowed to keep reporting on WMD when she had been expressly forbidden from doing so? Why did The Times keep publishing her stories? What checks and balances has The Times adopted to assure us, your trusting readers, that there will not be future Judith Millers?
When it comes to internal problems that affect readers, The Times has too often been the last place to turn for "all the news that’s fit to print." Will you continue to drive us to bloggers in the future when it comes to airing The Times’ dirty laundry that directly impacts the newspaper’s accuracy and credibility with readers, or is a new policy in place in which you will address institutionally discomfiting issues in print, where they belong, in a timely fashion in the future?
— Neil Chesanow, Montvale, N.J.
A. Sigh. I can’t imagine that there is anything to say about the Judy Miller episode that I have not already said, publicly and to The Times staff, over and over. At The Times, as in most of the media-watching world, we have registered the Miller saga as an important cautionary tale, and moved on. But the story has an afterlife in the impending trial of Scooter Libby, and, as our Q&A mailbag demonstrates, the subject has settled into some quarters of the blogosphere as a partisan obsession and an object of grassy-knoll conspiracy theories. The hard-core enthusiasts feed on blogs that have little to offer but harebrained speculation. (And they think Judy Miller was credulous!) Mr. Chesanow — one of the writers sampled above from a much larger batch on this subject — apparently judges Ms. Miller to be an unreliable source, but he consults her Web site. Hello?
"While the questions of what Judy knew, and what she was working on, may be matters of general curiosity, the answers don’t touch the heart of the case,” he claims. “The question of what is going on with the case — meaning what the special prosecutor is up to, and why he seems to regard Judy as important to the case — is a mystery to me. It’s something I’d like to have answered — not just for our staff, but for our readers."
Now it can be told: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney based their re-election campaign on lies, damned lies and statistics.
One interesting exchange occurred when Bill Keller, New York Times executive editor, allegedly told Miller back in 2003 that she would have to quit reporting from Iraq because she had become “radioactive….You can see it on the blogs.” Miller claims she replied, “Why do you give a shit about the blogs? They do not know anything.”
Apparently Keller judges the blogs to be an unreliable source, but he cites us as evidence. Hello?
Keller doesn’t want to answer the questions of ankle biters about why he stuffed the story about the NSA wiretaps at the behest of the Administration for over a year, until the election was safely over and Dubya was back on the throne. While it is open to speculation whether the story would have had any impact on the election, it is becoming clear that BushCo. was sparing no efforts at the time to put the kibosh on bad press and was thoroughly willing to misuse its authority and cry "national security" if that’s what it took. Keller owes more than a haughty harumph at those asking these questions.
And as long as he keeps providing reasons for his readers to abandon the Times and flee to the blogs in search of a community that asks the same questions and pokes holes in his bullshit, we’ll be here.