Monday, October 17, 2005
Nadagate: I read the two big New York Times articles on Nadagate over the weekend -- the Times' own account and that of its formerly incarcerated reporter Judith Miller. The following thoughts struck me:
Miller's (lack of an) explanation of where she got the name of Joseph Wilson's wife is not very believable. Supposedly she no longer needs to protect anyone -- so why no real explanation? Could it be that Plame's "deep cover" was blown by Google?
I'm not really surprised by it, but all of the media reporting seems to skip over the fact, confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee report, that Joseph Wilson was a political player and more especially a confirmed liar. The prevailing narrative still seems to be that the reason Wilson's wife became an issue was an effort at payback, rather than an effort at getting the truth out. Wilson lied repeatedly about how it was he was sent to Niger and what he found there. (Truth: his wife, and a "trade delegation" from Iraq. The only thing Niger has that Iraq would want to "trade" in is uranium.)
I'm not at all surprised by this call from Editor & Publisher's liberal editor Greg Mitchell for Miller to be fired, but he doesn't go far enough.
Saturday's Times article, without calling for Miller’s dismissal, or Keller’s apology, made the case for both actions in this pithy, frank, and brutal assessment: "The Times incurred millions of dollars in legal fees in Ms. Miller's case. It limited its own ability to cover aspects of one of the biggest scandals of the day. Even as the paper asked for the public's support, it was unable to answer its questions."
It followed that paragraph with Keller's view: "It's too early to judge."
But Mitchell really misses the point, because when you've got an out-of-control reporter like it appears Miller was, then that's a failure on management's part. I highlight this portion of the Times account:
But Mr. Sulzberger and the paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, knew few details about Ms. Miller's conversations with her confidential source other than his name. They did not review Ms. Miller's notes. Mr. Keller said he learned about the "Valerie Flame" notation only this month. Mr. Sulzberger was told about it by Times reporters on Thursday.
I'm sorry, but if you're going to bat for a reporter in federal court and before the public, then you as a journalist and a manager have a duty to know everything there is to know. A standoffish approach behind closed doors while embracing the cause in public is unconscionable. Keller should have demanded to know every detail from the start.
Mitchell calls for Miller to be fired, but there's just as much journalistic malpractice on Keller's part -- and he's management. Hasn't Keller ever seen "All the President's Men" or at least read the book? Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee knew far more about Deep Throat than Keller knew about what Miller was doing. This entire debacle for the Times is a failure of management on 42nd Street.
What also doesn't get mentioned much in this whole kerfuffle is the fact that I've still seen no evidence that there was ever a crime committed. But why let facts get in the way of a good scandal. Are we really back at the point of William Randolph Hearst's yellow journalism of the 20th century?