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Miller Case Resonates in 'New York Times'


The New York Times published an extensive report today about its reporter at the center of the CIA leak case, Judith Miller. Miller served 85 days in jail to protect a confidential source. She named the source as Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, only after Libby gave his permission for Miller to testify before a federal grand jury. A special prosecutor is investigating whether Libby, presidential adviser Karl Rove, or any other government official broke the law in revealing the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here to help us sort through the story.

Good morning, David.


Good morning.

NAYLOR: Let's start. Give us an overview, if you could, of The Times pieces that appeared in the newspaper today.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's right. There were two. One was The Times' account of Ms. Miller, and one was Ms. Miller's own story by herself. It was a pretty concussive blow. Basically, The Times acknowledged that it had abdicated a lot of the decision-making in this case and its handling, and even its coverage, to some degree, to Ms. Miller herself. The Times acknowledged it had killed stories that disclosed who her source was, that it had restrained and discouraged other stories that might have gotten closer to the vice president's office. In a sense, it was acknowledging that it had compromised its compact with the readers to present them with the news as it was happening.

NAYLOR: And how did Miller wind up getting involved in this case to start with?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this goes back several years, in fact, before the invasion of Iraq. Judith Miller was one of the most aggressive reporters in pursuing concerns that Saddam Hussein had pursued weapons of mass destruction. It's worth noting that The Times later had to sort of apologize and recant several of her articles for being perhaps overly credulous of her sources in government. The president had asserted that there'd been evidence that Saddam Hussein had pursued this material in Africa. A former diplomat named Joseph Wilson heard that in the State of the Union before the invasion in 2003 and, over time, became quite concerned that that was wrong. He had actually gone to Africa at the behest of the CIA to pursue those claims, and found they hadn't been borne out.

NAYLOR: And Miller actually never published a story on this.

FOLKENFLIK: That's absolutely right. It turn--what she was doing at the time was doing a story trying to explain, in the summer of 2003, why it was that troops had not found evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

NAYLOR: So what does she say that she told the grand jury?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, she testified that she spoke three times with Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Interestingly, one of those times was before Joseph Wilson went public. He wrote an Op-Ed on July 6th, 2003, in The Times, saying that the Bush administration had overstated the case for war. He had been doing so behind the scenes prior to that. What Miller testified was that Libby had three times concertedly tried to undermine Wilson and had talked to her about his wife, Valerie Plame. And that's the CIA agent who had been disclosed in a column a few days after Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed by Robert Novak, and the question was--the reason a special prosecutor was appointed--to determine: Had government officials outed her in retaliation, and had they broken laws to do so?

NAYLOR: What did the Times story about itself say how the investigation affected The Times and its ability to cover the Plame leak case?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, in a sense, it corroded its ability to do just that. Time and time again, The Times was scooped on this story, often involving itself. Ms. Miller's source was Scooter Libby. He was identified in other press reports before The Times. The Times waited even after that point, until she was released from jail on September 30th, to do so. It's one example.

NAYLOR: And it was scooped, in fact, on her release from jail.

FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely.

NAYLOR: So how does Judy Miller emerge from all this?

FOLKENFLIK: I think she emerges pretty bruised and battered. By The Times' own account, she essentially couldn't remember who was her first person who told her about Valerie Plame. She wasn't particularly cooperative with the reporters on this thing. She essentially withheld from her colleagues vital information about this. The managing editor, Jill Abramson, at one point, was asked by reporters for today's piece, `What do you regret about this case?' And she said, `Everything about it.'

NAYLOR: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: Good to join you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.