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The New York Times and its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Judith Miller have presented twin accounts of Miller's role in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. The Times' pieces raise question about the reporter's professionalism and the paper's ability to manage her. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:
Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail on civil contempt of court charges because, she said, First Amendment principles required her to protect her confidential source. She revealed that source was Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, but only after getting what she says was his firm assurance he wanted her to testify. Here's what Miller said last night at an awards ceremony in California for the granddaddy of all confidential sources, Watergate's Deep Throat.
Ms. JUDITH MILLER (The New York Times): Reporters should not have to choose between going to jail and keeping their pledge to their sources.
FOLKENFLIK: Miller's source, Lewis Libby, is under scrutiny by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The prosecutor convened a federal grand jury to determine whether Libby, presidential adviser Karl Rove or other government officials broke the law by leaking the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald says Plame's identity was leaked in July 2003 because Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had publicly criticized the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein sought weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq. Six days later, columnist Robert Novak published Plame's name.
The Times has now offered troubling details about Miller's dealing with Libby. For example, Miller said she agreed to identify Libby as a former Hill staffer instead of a senior White House official because he used to work as a congressional aide. That would appear to violate long-standing guidelines at The Times against deceiving readers about the possible agendas of unnamed sources. Through a spokeswoman, Judith Miller declined to comment to NPR.
The Times spent millions of dollars defending Miller, and to keep Miller's promise of confidentiality, editors killed at least one article about Libby by other reporters and discouraged related reporting. Now Miller's own account of what happened appears to have changed. This is how her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, recently explained the terms under which she testified for special prosecutor Fitzgerald.
Mr. FLOYD ABRAMS (Lawyer): He was persuaded, and accurately persuaded, that Judy Miller didn't have any other source which bore upon the Plame situation other than Mr. Libby.
FOLKENFLIK: But Miller wrote in The Times today that after she testified the first time, she discovered an additional notebook with a misspelled version of Valerie Plame's name. She says she thinks she first heard of Plame's identity from another person, but Miller told prosecutors she can't remember who that was.
Miller's involvement in the case stems from her reporting on the possible threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The Times ultimately had to apologize for some of her articles as being too credulous of White House sources and Iraqi exiles. David Corn is Washington editor of the liberal weekly The Nation. He was the first to question publicly whether laws were broken by the leak of Plame's name. He says Miller was out of control on this story.
Mr. DAVID CORN (The Nation): Judy Miller was almost a bureau unto herself within The New York Times, chasing after these WMD stories and not really being edited or vetted or challenged by editors above her. And one wonders why a leading paper would be so cavalier on one of the most important questions of the last couple of years.
FOLKENFLIK: One of those editors is now contradicting Miller. In today's story, Miller says she told her boss that she wanted to write a piece about Wilson and Plame. Managing editor Jill Abramson, then the paper's Washington bureau chief, says Miller made no such pitch. In The Times article today, Abramson was asked what she regretted about The Times' handling of the case. Her response? `The entire thing.' David Folkenflik, NPR New, Washington.
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