'Times' Criticized on Coverage of Miller Story

The New York Times is coming under increasing fire for failing to report on one of its own reporters. Judith Miller has spent time in jail and testified before a federal grand jury about her role in the leak of a CIA agent's identity. Journalists from other news outlets — and some of the Times' own reporters — are critical of the paper's silence on the story.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Reporter Judith Miller of The New York Times testified for a second time before a federal grand jury yesterday. She was released from jail two weeks ago when she agreed to testify in the investigation of the leak of a CIA agent's identity. But The Times has not yet explained Miller's role to its readers, and as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, that has sparked a lot of criticism within media circles.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

This is how Jay Rosen started a recent commentary on his journalism blog PressThink.org.

Professor JAY ROSEN (PressThink.org): Just one man's opinion, but now is a good time to say it: The New York Times is not any longer, in my mind, the greatest newspaper in the land.

FOLKENFLIK: Rosen is a professor at New York University and The Times is his hometown paper, but he says he's become disenchanted with The Times, in part because it hasn't explained its role in the Valerie Plame leak case.

Prof. ROSEN: The newspaper isn't functioning as a normal newspaper would because, although there are many tricky things about reporting on yourself, let's face it, it's not an impossible challenge. It's been done many times by newspapers, including The New York Times.

FOLKENFLIK: He's echoed by Arianna Huffington, editor of the online Huffington Post.

Ms. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (Huffington Post): The New York Times has ceased journalist operations. You cannot really continuously refuse to report on Judy Miller's role in Plamegate, and continuously simply back up her own story.

FOLKENFLIK: Executive editor Bill Keller declined a request for an interview, but promised Times staffers in a memo Tuesday evening that the newspaper would publish a comprehensive piece as soon as its reporter, Judith Miller, is out of legal jeopardy. Miller went to jail for 85 days for civil contempt of court to avoid naming her confidential source in the leak of the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Miller testified after being released from her promise of anonymity by her source, Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating whether a crime was committed in the leak of Plame's name after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush administration in an opinion piece in July 2003. Miller's testimony yesterday focused on her conversation with Libby more than a week before Wilson's opinion article was published. Time magazine's Jim Steele helped write an extensive piece as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1977 when a political reporter there turned out to be romantically involved with a major political player.

Mr. JIM STEELE (Time Magazine): There were many people in the newspaper who felt a lot of their feelings were hurt by--felt we hadn't been entirely fair with them, so it was sort of a no-win situation internally.

FOLKENFLIK: But Steele says the pages-long article, warts and all, was necessary to salvage the Inquirer's credibility, and he says The Times needs to follow that example.

Mr. STEELE: There's just so many questions about this whole Miller case that have just never been answered, and that only people inside The Times can answer it, I think.

FOLKENFLIK: Last week, Miller agreed to be interviewed by NPR, but Times' corporate communications officials intervened to say she would not. She did do two television interviews last week, one with Lou Dobbs of CNN, the other with ABC News' Barbara Walters, who called Miller a friend. Neither pressed Miller much in the leak case. Here's Walters and Miller on "Good Morning America."

(Soundbite from "Good Morning America")

Ms. BARBARA WALTERS (ABC News): What is the special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, looking for?

Ms. JUDITH MILLER (The New York Times): You know, we're all wondering. Does he have a case here? Is he just going to file a report? Is he going to issue indictments?

FOLKENFLIK: Jonathan Landman is The New York Times' editor who's handling the story for the newspaper. He told NPR the newspaper would provide a full account of this confusing story, and that waiting for Miller would help it do just that. But there are skeptics even inside The Times. Several Times journalists talked to NPR on condition they not be named. They questioned why The Times has not offered readers the best article it can right now and return to the issue when Miller can talk.

The president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, is also set to testify again before the grand jury. It'll be his fourth time. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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