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Judith Miller's controversial role

Floyd Abrams

First Amendment attorney

Floyd Abrams

You referred to the facts in the Miller case and some other aspects of it not being necessarily the facts that you would really want. What do you mean by that?

If you could choose your factual case, it might be one closer to the Pentagon Papers case, where the material at issue was historical in nature, ... where there was a showing of government wrongdoing of some sort. That's the sort of case you'd like to have. Those aspects were missing in the Miller case.

Also, in the Miller case, there was an ongoing investigation of very high-ranking people in the administration, and very few members of any Supreme Court would easily cut that off. I think that the members of this Court as well were unwilling to do so. I'm not saying they would necessarily have taken the case otherwise, but I think factors such as that strongly gravitated against us.

... Explain. What was the case about?

Well, both Judith Miller of the Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine, both of whom I represented through the Court of Appeals, had had various conversations with high-ranking people in the administration -- one, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff of the vice president; another was Karl Rove, chief domestic policy adviser to the president -- and as a result of those interviews had learned certain things about the wife of a dissident former ambassador who disagreed with the administration's Iraq policy and then who had been sent by the CIA to Niger to check out certain stories that had been bandied about about Saddam Hussein seeking to purchase what were in essence the basis for building atomic weapons in that African country.

In one way or another, in certain language that was used, Miller learned that the wife of the former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on this mission by the CIA, was herself in the CIA. Matt Cooper learned basically the same sort of information. Miller never wrote a story about it. Cooper wrote a story criticizing the administration for leaking critical things, in effect seeming to want to use against Mr. Wilson the fact that his wife was in the CIA and therefore suggesting that there was something improper in his being asked to go to Niger in the first place.

Nepotism of some kind?

Yes, yes. That was the tone, certainly. So Cooper's article was a blast at the administration.

So why were the facts bad?

... The investigation was said to be about whether there was a violation of the law which makes it a crime to reveal the identity of a CIA agent under certain circumstances. In that circumstance, where what's involved sounds not only important but potentially life-threatening to a CIA agent or people with whom she dealt, where the journalists are the ones who have or may have information directly relevant to answering the question, who leaked the information?

It's a very tough case to persuade a court that you want to, in effect, give the journalist a free pass and say that he or she doesn't have to testify. That's the starting point from a judicial perspective. Not many judges would be prepared to downgrade the potential significance of such a case. That was one of the things that from the start made the case so difficult from our perspective in trying to persuade the Court that they should not require the journalists to reveal the information.

But aren't those facts exactly what persuaded other publications, other attorneys to advise their clients -- The Washington Post, NBC -- that they should cooperate in some fashion?

Those facts had something to do with it, and the degree of involvement of their journalists had something to do with it. A lot of journalists knew a lot less than Judith Miller did. And how shall I put it? The degree of commitment of some of the journalists varied from person to person, commitment to protecting confidential sources.

Judith Miller took very, very seriously the obligation she had undertaken to Mr. Libby, for example, not to reveal who he was. Other journalists -- I'm not blaming them -- but other journalists and their lawyers tried to find a way out.

... This wasn't the battle worth fighting.

And I understand that. But her view was she'd made a promise, and rather than try to cut a deal, we should fight it as long as we could and as hard as we could. Then if it wound up with her going to jail, that was the price involved. That was not the view of certain other journalists and certain other publications. But I can tell you from the inside that it certainly was the view of Judith Miller, of Matt Cooper and of the Times and Time when this all began. …

 

Carl Bernstein

When you saw that [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller was going to jail, what was your reaction?

My initial impression was that she was doing the right thing. As it became more and more complicated, and perhaps apparent that she could have gotten a waiver, a true waiver, then I began to have doubts about whether it was necessary for her to go to jail.

It's obvious to me that The New York Times in the Judy Miller case became semidysfunctional and that there were great tensions between reporter and management. There were problems of differing views by different lawyers. It was a very complicated situation.

But the most important point of all to me is that [then-Chief of Staff for Vice President Cheney] Scooter Libby, the so-called bad guy in this, still deserved protection, even if it's Scooter Libby. ...

There is this value judgment that Libby wasn't worth protecting because he was just trying to spin public opinion, ... or that a source has to be somehow someone of pure motive. But Mark Felt['s] wasn't a pure motive.

To this day, I don't know all of Mark Felt's motives. There's no way to know the motives of another person totally, even a person that you know very well. Our responsibility is to the principle, and that principle is that if we want to know the facts and come up with a truthful picture of something, it will more often than not require that we are able to tell people with information that we will not identify them under any circumstances.

If it turns out that those people are certifiable bad guys, and yet they are telling us what we believe and what they believe to be truthful, ... we don't get to make the decision of whether to protect a source based on the ideology or party of a person. We make this decision based uniformly on our need for information so that we can put together a truthful picture. ...

So she did the right thing.

In terms of not giving up the source, absolutely. But if it turns out, as Libby says, that she never needed to maintain the confidentiality, that he had released her from it long before and offered to, then there are some other apparently personal and institutional factors that enter into this. ...

 
Ben Bradlee

Former editor, The Washington Post

Ben Bradlee

What did you think when [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller went to jail?

Well, Judy Miller's a special case. She really is. She didn't have to go to jail. I think there was some sense, at least in the beginning, that she was carrying a cause, and she didn't mind doing a little time for it.

For her own reasons?

Yeah. She became a heroine for that. I'm not the first person who's brought that up, I hope, that she had ulterior motives.

You mean because she was trying of the recoup her reputation about the weapons-of-mass-destruction coverage?

A little bit.

 
Scott Johnson

Blogger, Power Line

Scott Johnson

Do you think ... that was it wrong for [New York Times reporter] Judith Miller to defy the prosecutor [Patrick Fitzgerald] and go to jail?

Reporters shouldn't make promises they can't keep, so I would ask them to keep in mind the fact that they are citizens and that they don't have, at least as a matter of constitutional law, the right to withhold information in a criminal investigation or under subpoena in some other investigation. I thought that the whole [Valerie] Plame prosecution was probably misguided. The New York Times had called [for], had demanded the appointment of that special prosecutor, and it seemed to me another instance of the pursuit of an issue in a completely misguided way coming back to bite the source. ...

 
Bill Keller

Editor, The New York Times

Bill Keller

Do you remember when you first found out that [Times reporter] Judy Miller had been subpoenaed?

... When I learned that she was being subpoenaed, my reaction was, first of all, well, why didn't I know that she'd had this information in the first place, or did anybody know that we'd had this information in the first place?; and second of all, "Oh my God, we've been subpoenaed." ...

And did you feel like this was a good case or the right case to fight over it?

I think it was a case that we had to fight, but you probably couldn't have picked a worse one. It was a terrible case. It was a terrible case because you had a reporter who had a kind of political cloud over her head -- not entirely fairly, but she had been sort of demonized by the left for the stories that she'd written about WMD [weapons of mass destruction] prior to the invasion of Iraq. ...

Second of all, ... it certainly didn't appear to be the case of a whistleblower revealing some questionable act on the part of the government, but a leak that was apparently made as part of a smear campaign. The underlying principle that we try to protect our sources, including against subpoenas before grand juries, is a good principle, but it's a very, very hard one to explain to the general public given both the problematic nature of the reporter and the problematic nature of the leak. I think everybody wished that it was a cleaner case.

But do you ever really get to choose?

No, which is why we ended up fighting this one as best we could.

So when Judy finally relented after 85 days in prison and agreed to testify, did that in a sense undercut the whole principle of resistance?

Well it made it much harder to explain what the fight was all about. That's certainly the case. ...

One of the problems here was that she was obviously the subject of great criticism ... because of the nature of her coverage of the weapons of mass destruction issue. … In the end, was she really responsible for all of that, or was that really a problem of the editors at The New York Times?

I wrote the editor's note where we went back and re-examined all of that coverage, much of it Judy's, although not all of it. ... I think people lost sight of the whole climate at the time that she was writing those stories; you can find people who write about Judy Miller as if she started the war in Iraq all by herself without even any involvement of the Bush administration.

The fact of the matter is, in the run-up to the war in Iraq, everybody believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't an eccentric view or a warmonger's view or a right-wing view. In fact, we now know from Michael Gordon's book [Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq], his own generals believed that he had WMD, and they only learned it on the eve of the war ... that they didn't have any weapons of mass destruction to fend off the invaders with. ...

Now, in that context, a lot of people wrote stories that were I think overly credulous. It wasn't, you know, some kind of sense of overdeveloped patriotism or an eagerness on the part of reporters to ingratiate themselves with the White House. What it was was the reporters want to get on the front page; they want scoops. ...

Judy, I think, shares the responsibility because she came up with some questionable information from questionable sources. The paper shares the responsibility for not second-guessing her and third-guessing her on those stories and then for putting them on the top of the front page. ...

The criticism that I've heard of these editor's notes is that ... these editor's notes are saying to reporters, "Now you have to be prescient, too." ...

You don't have to be prescient, but you have to be skeptical; that's all. And the stories that we identified in both of those cases, both the Wen Ho Lee [case of the Los Alamos scientist accused of spying for China] and the WMD case, were a more serious transgression of our responsibilities. In both of those cases, the shortcomings of the story should have been evident on the day they were published. You didn't have to know how things came out to know that there was something not quite fully supported in this story. ...

And when Judy says she got the story wrong because "If your sources are wrong, you are wrong; it's that simple"?

Well, it's not that simple. That assumes that you're taking material from your sources uncritically and putting it in the newspaper, and that's not the way it's supposed to work.

It's not supposed to work that way.

No. There's a term of art in the business: "reporting against your sources." It's something that most of us learned to do, and all of us as editors encourage reporters to do, which is: "OK, your sources told you that this is true. Where are you most likely to find a contradictory point of view? Go test your evidence, and then show your work." ...

She says that the long piece that the Times ran after she got out of jail, combined with the "Woman of Mass Destruction" column, that the Times betrayed her.

I think the Times stood by her from beginning to end. We owed our readers our best reported account of what happened in that case, and we gave it to them. I don't edit the op-ed page or the columnists, but I don't think Maureen Dowd, who wrote that column, would claim to speak for the Times, and if Judy chooses to see that as a betrayal by the Times, she's free to see it any way she wants.

And she says that the WMD editor's note, by implication, singled her out and didn't really discuss the editors or the other reporters involved. ...

I think her memory fails her. The world's attention was focused on Judy for a year before I wrote that editor's note, if not longer. The editor's note did not focus on anybody by name. It listed specific stories. Most of them were hers or had her as one of the two bylines. There was also a Web site in which we listed a number of stories that we were proud of. So no, the editor's note was not a Judy-bashing exercise -- on the contrary. ...

In fairness to Judy, if you walk down our Pulitzer hallway, you will see her picture on a series of articles that we ran that were the first in the mainstream media to focus attention on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. She was way ahead of the competition in recognizing the potential threat of terrorism, and specifically of Al Qaeda. ...

In Judy Miller's account of her testimony in the Times, she revealed a series of agreements with Scooter Libby about how he would be identified. She agreed to refer to him as "a former Hill staffer." Is this arrangement typical?

No. I hope it's not typical, and it's not acceptable. It's a clear violation of our ethics policy. The idea in writing about anonymous sources is to avoid identifying them but not to deliberately misidentify them. ...

Sounds like something you regret, the whole situation.

There are certainly aspects of it I regret. The principle is the principle, and I would rather work at a place that stands up for that principle than one that doesn't. There are a lot of things about the paper's relationship with Judy Miller that I would like to take mulligans on. ...

 
Nicholas Kristof

Columnist, The New York Times

Nicholas Kristof

A number of people were critical of [New York Times reporter] Judith Miller for how she and [former Chief of Staff to Dick Cheney] Scooter Libby discussed how he was going to be identified.

"A former Hill staffer."

Right. Why were they critical of that?

Even when you grant somebody anonymity, you need to be accurate in your description. You can't say "somebody close to Mr. Smith" if it's Mr. Smith himself. That is just dishonest with the reader. You can't say "an Asian diplomat" if in fact it's a Western diplomat. As a reporter, you're trying to be as precise as possible. The other person is trying to find some way of gaining anonymity, but at the end of the day, the description has to be honest, has to be accurate. For example, some reporters have changed gender of the person, and that strikes me as dishonest with the reader. Or they'll multiply a source -- one individual who will become "administration sources." That also strikes me as inaccurate and wrong.

Judy Miller has said that "your reporting is only as good as your sources." In essence, that was what was behind the much-criticized reporting on WMDs that appeared in The New York Times by her.

Great reporting is about getting good information, reporting hard, getting good sources, and Judy Miller was great at getting that information, extracting it from officials. A secondary aspect is showing good judgment and trying to verify information, going back to other people, trying to put that information that you get in some kind of larger context. Institutionally, ... we were not nearly as good at providing that judgment and sharing that judgment with a reader.

I think it's a little bit unfair just to blame everything on Judy Miller. She was one reporter. There should be checks and balances in a newspaper. There are people reading what she wrote; there are people editing her.

What was the point of Judy Miller going to jail?

Frankly, to me, the [Special Prosecutor Patrick] Fitzgerald investigation and the Judy Miller case are still a little bit murky. When Judy was released from prison, I initially felt a little bit betrayed, because I had backed her.

It looked initially as if, in fact, Scooter Libby may have granted her a genuine waiver and told her "Go ahead and testify" much earlier. In that case, what's she doing in jail? We should be protecting sources who want to remain confidential, not those who don't want to be.

But in fact as time went on, and particularly after I read the indictment of Scooter Libby, I came around a little. I thought maybe Judy was right and that waiver really wasn't very genuine, because if you read the indictment, it's hard to imagine why Scooter Libby would actually want Judy to testify when she would be testifying that basically everything he had told the prosecutor was false. I became more sympathetic to Judy's position later on, that this waiver that he supposedly had granted must have been forged and involuntary and just going through the motions rather than something real. ...

Judy Miller is probably the most famous journalist in America these days, more or less, and she's variously cast as a hero or a villain. I think she's actually an awful lot more complex than that. She at times could be a great reporter in the sense of ferreting out information. On the other hand, she wrote a bunch of stories that in retrospect just really look terrible and embarrassed her and this newspaper and did a disservice to the American public.

She went to jail to protect her source, and that took guts. She put up with a lot of very difficult conditions to serve some kind of a larger principle. On the other hand, the ambiguity of exactly what happened and what the source had told her, to what extent he had told her that she should go ahead and reveal their confidences, that's still unclear to me.

 
Nicholas Lemann

Dean, Columbia University School of Journalism

Nicholas Lemann

Well, [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller went to jail because of it, the lack of a federal shield law.

Judy Miller went to jail, right.

What do you think of Judy Miller and what happened? She went to jail. Did that help journalism? Did that hinder journalism?

I admire her for sticking by her guns and essentially saying, "I have a confidential source relationship, and I'm going to protect it, and I'm going to go to jail to protect it." She didn't claim that it was legally protected; she essentially said, "I have made a bargain with my source," who turned out to be [former Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney] Scooter Libby, "and I'm standing by my word even though I know there isn't any legal protection currently, and I'm going to go to jail over it."

She had a coherent argument for why she then left jail and testified, which was that Libby had released her from her bond that she had made with him, a sort of private contract without legal standing. So therefore she left jail. I think the way the case nets out, though, is that prosecutors would take from it the signal that if you just keep pushing and pushing and pushing on the press, they're going to cave on this going-to-jail stuff and eventually testify. So I'm not sure that --

But has that been unfair, because [journalist and author] Bob Woodward didn't resist the subpoena when it turned out he was one of the first recipients of this information. [Columnist] Robert Novak didn't resist. [NBC's] Tim Russert walked right in and said, "Of course I'll testify." And Cooper at first testified and only then balked, and then later testified. Has it been unfair to rap Judy Miller because she was willing to take this to jail and make a point of it?

She showed a lot of courage in being willing to go to jail to protect her source, and that's admirable. I just think the net of that case doesn't play well for the press in its ongoing maneuvering with prosecutors, because prosecutors took from that case the lesson, "If you keep pushing you'll eventually get the person to testify." So it's important. Her behavior and The New York Times' editorial stance are both important.

If they thought all along, "If only Scooter Libby would have a conversation where he'd release us from our obligation, then we wouldn't need to go to jail, and we'd be happy to testify," it would have been better from a PR standpoint for them to have that conversation a few months earlier and not walk up the hill and then walk down the hill. But nonetheless, I do admire her for being willing to go to jail to protect the promise she made to her source.

 
Judith Miller

Freelance reporter

Judith Miller

In the courtroom before you went to jail, you made a statement about the importance of the freedom of the press. What did you say?

I said that without confidential sources, you couldn't have really free, independent press. I quoted Thomas Jefferson, who said that if he had to choose between having a government and having a free press, he would choose the latter. I said that because I'd worked in the Middle East for so long I understood the importance of the rule of law, because so many of the countries in which I worked didn't have a rule of law, or any law except the law of the leader. But that in a matter of personal conscience, when it was a question of freedom of the press versus obeying the law, while I was not above the law -- in fact I was here in this court as a statement that I was very much covered by the law and accepted it and appreciated it -- that I had to follow my conscience, and I had to protect my sources, because without them there couldn't be an independent and a free press. I had written out the statement before, because I knew I would be too nervous to make it just an extemporaneous statement. ... Judge [Thomas F.] Hogan permitted me to read it to him, and I did.

And then he sent you to jail.

Yes. (Laughs.) He did. From having read the statement, it seemed like just a couple of minutes before I was taken … to the punishment side of the law, right in back of the courtroom where there was a jail cell, locked cell, where I sat for several hours while they decided where I was going to go. It was terrifying.

Terrifying?

Yeah, really terrifying, because the fear of the unknown is always with you, and even though I'd been in some kind of fearful situations before, I had never been in jail. And I guess I'd seen a lot of movies, so yeah, I was fairly terrified.

Before all of this started, what did you think your rights were as a reporter, and particularly around confidential sources?

I knew that 30 years ago the Supreme Court had delivered what was a rather ambiguous statement with respect to whether or not reporters had a privilege not to testify about sources before a grand jury. And I knew that for 30 years the courts had kind of bent over backward not to push this issue.

I also knew that while I would be protected in many states under state law, ... that at the federal level there was no guarantee of such protection, so I realized from the beginning that there was a possibility that I might go to jail. While others discounted that possibility, I never did. I always thought it was a serious risk.

But you played in the arena of Washington reporting, for instance, national security reporting for a long time.

Uh-huh. But nobody had ever gone to jail. I mean, the last person to go to jail with The New York Times had been Myron Farber in New Jersey [in 1978]. No national security reporters had been sent to jail. Usually these things were worked out between prosecutors and reporters, between the federal government and news organizations. I guess I hoped against hope that in this case there would be a similar resolution.

Did you have some method for deciding whether you gave somebody confidentiality? Because it seems pretty informal in Washington.

I think it is informal in Washington, or at least it was informal in Washington before this case. ... I think people who worked in the national security area almost automatically understood that the people whom they are interviewing had to take polygraphs, and one of the first questions that these sources were asked was always, have you had any unauthorized conversations with a journalist?

I think we were always aware that you had to speak to these people on the basis of confidentiality, or they wouldn't talk. Many of them had already stopped taking my calls at the office. I had to usually call before 8:00 in the morning or after 8:00 at night, because they would not talk to me from an office phone.

I had taken precautions about speaking on cell phones that couldn't be traced. You try and be careful. But ultimately your ability to function in a national security area depends on having people who trust you to talk to you, to give you their side of a dispute that you're attempting to cover. So even though you're careful, those of us who cover national security understand that almost everybody who talks to you is maybe violating the law simply by discussing classified information without authorization. ...

We now know who your source was. Mr. [Scooter] Libby, [then-chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney]. How long have you known him?

I had known him for several years. I had known of him for years before that, because when I began working with my colleagues on my book [Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War] about biological weapons, Mr. Libby had been quoted in that book as a source. He had been very helpful to my colleagues. I had not interacted directly with him, but he knew of me, and he knew that a lot of the information that we were asking him about had come from me. So we kind of knew of each other. ...

Was he part of your network of people that you would talk to regularly just to know what was going around in Washington?

... He was not a social friend, if that's what you're asking. He was not somebody whom I went out to dinner with regularly. He was not a person that I dealt with regularly, but I had some contact with him.

He trusted you?

I don't know whether he trusted me. You'll have to ask him that. I felt that I had given him a pledge of confidentiality, given his position and given the kind of information he had, and given the kinds of conversations we were having, and that that pledge had to be respected.

When did you first find out that you were going to get subpoenaed into what was then the Robert Novak case?

I think I had a premonition, if you will. I had a fear that I might be subpoenaed, because the subpoenas were being issued quite broadly in Washington. I knew several reporters who had gotten them, and I also knew that I had had conversations with Mr. Libby and that, therefore, I might be subpoenaed as well. Because of that, I went to our lawyers at the Times, and I said I was worried about getting such a subpoena.

Because you were afraid that they would be able to determine that you had talked to him in some way?

Yes. ...

And when you received it?

It was obviously not a happy day. But I wasn't really surprised. I was just worried.

Were you clear at that point that you weren't going to cooperate?

Very clear.

From the beginning?

From the beginning. ...

You know, a lot of people are confused. You never wrote a story about this, but you were subpoenaed.

Right.

Can you explain that?

I can't really. I mean, normally journalists are prepared to talk about the stories we write. I think what was particularly troubling to me about this case was that I was being asked to discuss a story I hadn't written, information that I had not published. ... Therefore the confidentiality pledge was even more important. ...

... People understand that if there's a whistleblower, someone who's got some information about wrongdoing or illegality going on, let's say, in the government, they need to be protected, obviously. There's even laws that protect them as whistleblowers. But what happens when it's not about whistleblowing, when there's another motive of the source? I'm speaking generally here.

Look, sources aren't saints, and we shouldn't expect them to be. People leak for all kinds of reasons. ... My job was to collect as much information as I could in order to discover where the truth lay, and that means getting information from all kinds of people. In Washington, officials discuss information like this every day. They spin it. They get their side of the story out. Reporters have to hear all of that in order to evaluate the information they have.

Another point is that when you sit down to interview a source, say, if I'm interviewing you, I don't know what you're going to tell me. I don't know whether or not it's truthful or accurate. I don't even know why you may be telling me this, but I know that it's important that I hear it if I'm trying to write a story that's balanced and that's fair.

So we can't begin to say I'm only going to issue pledges of confidentiality when politically I agree with the source, or I think the source isn't politically motivated. Almost all leaks of information are politically motivated.

Let me re-enact this in some way, generically. So I'm a very powerful official in the United States government and I say, "Let's have lunch, but it's going to be on background."

Happens every day in Washington, yes.

But then I start to unload on you information that's negative information about someone in Washington.

That happens every day. Just about every day. It's the reporter's obligation to sift through that information and find out whether or not there's a legitimate story there.

But if the source is obviously after some kind of political advantage -- this isn't to expose something to the American public, to give them some information that they can't get any other way; ... we're talking about political hardball basically -- you still have to honor that arrangement?

Absolutely, or people won't come forth to talk to you. You have to honor your pledge of confidentiality. …

But you're saying there's no gradations? There's no difference between your confidentiality pledge to a source who's got some ulterior motive versus someone who's taking risks to present information to the public?

People are always taking risks when they're discussing classified information with reporters. Mark Felt, who was Deep Throat, were his motives entirely pure? Was he angry about the administration policy, the Nixon administration?

My job is to evaluate motive when I'm actually writing a story. When I'm collecting information, I want to talk to as many different people as I can and hear as many different viewpoints as I can. That's tricky when the information you're dealing with is classified. But I can't begin to draw a boundary around information and sources based on their political views or whether or not I like what I'm hearing. ...

Many of your colleagues made different decisions than you did. Mr. [Tim] Russert [of NBC], Mr. [Walter] Pincus [of The Washington Post], they decided to cooperate. …

… Every reporter must make his or her own decision about whether or not they're going to cooperate in such an investigation. But I think that unless all sources or potential sources know that a reporter is going to protect them, they won't come forward with information. ...

Can I say something else about this source business? Our political culture now has become deeply polarized and politicized. There are some of my colleagues, and I'm not going to name names, but I think some colleagues decided that it was more important to "get someone in the Bush administration" than it was to protect the First Amendment.

For me, ... protecting the public's right to know always had priority, and therefore my standard for cooperation was very high. It was different from other people's. Everybody has to make that call themselves, but I knew what I could live with and what I couldn't live with.

But, you know, it became clear pretty soon that because of the WMD [weapons-of-mass-destruction] stories and at least what you represented to some people in the public and the media that you were going to have some problems getting support. Did you ever wonder, "Maybe I'm not the right person to do this"?

I don't think I chose to put myself in this situation. I think the facts of this case kind of chose me. I thought that I just had to follow my conscience and do what it dictated. ...

This is why I feel so strongly we need a federal shield law, because individual journalists and individual news organizations shouldn't have to be in the situation of deciding like this, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not we're going to go to jail or violate our commitment, ... because the public deserves to have this information, and we need judicial help at this point in achieving that mission.

But how would a federal shield law have helped you? I don't know of anybody who's proposing one that would cover national security information.

Well, the first versions of the measure that was proposed by Sen. [Arlen] Specter [R-Pa.] and Sen. [Christopher] Dodd [D-Conn.] did that. It had virtually an absolute privilege for reporters except in cases of imminent harm to the national security -- not previous harm, but imminent future harm. And I think that might have covered my case. Yes, I do.

The irony here is that the complaining witness, if you will, the victim was the CIA. They complained to the Justice Department that there was a potential violation of the agent identification act because of Mr. Novak's article, and that's a national security issue. The woman in question, Valerie Plame, was an undercover agent or undercover official, so she was potentially in danger. ... Do you think that reporters shouldn't be answerable in those circumstances?

No. I think that reporters ought to have an absolute privilege.

Absolute?

Except in cases of imminent harm to an individual or imminent harm to national security. I think the broader the statute, the better protection of the public's right to know.

So journalists should be able to determine what's public and what's not, when it's a matter of national security and classification?

The Constitution decided that. The First Amendment decided that. That's our system.

But there are limits on it.

News organizations make those decisions every day, and the fact that the administration in this case has chosen to go after, to pursue so many criminal investigations involving so many reporters I think ought to raise questions in the public's mind about whether or not the administration wants them to have information the press wants them to have.

Wait a second. I thought you were Judy Miller, the supporter of the administration, the friend of the administration?

Who says that? Who says that?

I've read it.

I never characterized my own political views. I don't discuss my political views publicly. ... People offering what they believe to be opinions about what I believe and what my political views are oftentimes -- especially in a lot of what I read about myself -- don't know a thing about me or what I believe, or my history, or my political views. And I don't think that that should be relevant in terms of assessing whether or not sources should be protected. ...

Look, you prided yourself and have actually developed quite a reputation for having access in Washington to officials, to sources. ...

Yes.

For example, you managed to have, if you will, an unusual relationship with the U.S. military in terms of covering what was going on in Iraq related to weapons of mass destruction, right?

I was embedded with the unit that was charged with hunting for weapons of mass destruction.

No one else was there for the media?

No.

... Do you see why people perceived you as a friend of the administration, because you had that kind of access?

You know what? I got an interview with Bill Clinton on the eve of his impeachment hearing to discuss biological weapons and the threat to this country posed by bioterrorism. It was a president in one of the most severe crises he had, and I was given access to him for an interview on a subject that he cared a great deal about and I cared a great deal about and I was covering for The New York Times. Nobody said, "Oh my gosh, she's too close to the Clinton administration."

I do my job. It was my job to find out what information was being provided by the intelligence community to the president -- a Democrat president and then a Republican president. I did that job irrespective of who was in the White House.

I'm not saying that you've been fairly criticized for it. I'm saying that you step back for a minute and try to understand why the criticism, in a sense, was political, for example.

... It probably was political, and I regret that, because I think that it has muddied the waters. I think that it has clouded the issue here. It's clouded what's at stake in the protection of sources. ...

When you first read [former Ambassador] Joe Wilson's op-ed piece, what was your reaction?

I didn't read it. I was in Iraq. I heard about it when I came back.

You heard that possibly the administration had used bad information to go to war?

Right.

And when you read Novak's column, what was your reaction?

Clearly I was annoyed. I was annoyed because the Times had been beaten. I thought there's clearly a story here. Either there's a story that Wilson's information was not correct, or there was a story that the White House was trying to discredit him, slander him through his wife. But I knew there was a story there, and Novak had picked up on that and had gone with it. And I don't like to be beaten.

But you saw that he identified Wilson's wife as an operative of the CIA.

Yes, operative.

What did that mean to you?

I wasn't quite sure. I wasn't quite sure whether or not he was saying that she was undercover or that she was an operations officer or [whether] he was just using a word that was kind of a sexy word for an analyst. I didn't know. ...

Did you have an intention to write anything about it?

I recommended to an editor that a story be pursued -- not that we write, but that we pursue this story. ...

But you didn't necessarily have any intention of writing anything?

No. I was assigned to a different story at that point. ...

In this case, there was something that no one counted on called waivers. When did you hear about them, and what did you think about them?

When I first read that government officials had been asked by the administration, by the president and by [special prosecutor] Mr. [Patrick] Fitzgerald to sign blanket waivers, I said these people aren't signing these documents willingly and voluntarily. If your boss comes to you and puts a piece of paper in front of you and says, "Sign this or you're out of a job," do you really have much of a choice?

I felt that those blanket waivers, what I called assembly-line waivers -- anonymous, impersonal -- did not really relieve me of the pledge I had made to my source. I would have liked to have accepted it; I just couldn't. ...

There was an expectation at the beginning when the CIA made its complaint and the FBI investigation was announced [that] this is just going to be another leak investigation in Washington; given the Justice Department guidelines, reporters aren't going to get subpoenaed, right?

Right.

And The New York Times editorialized for a special counsel.

Yes.

And eventually Attorney General [John] Ashcroft stepped aside.

Yes.

It's kind of ironic.

Be careful what you wish for. Be careful what you editorialize for. I always disagreed with that editorial. I think special prosecutors imperil both reporters and their sources because they're not accountable to a political system. I think that they're part of our problem at the moment. ...

So you think these waivers are what -- "pernicious" is the word you used?

Yes. Coercive and dangerous, pernicious. Definitely.

But take the other point of view: Officials in the White House or in the Central Intelligence Agency, or anywhere where they're sworn to secrecy, they're not supposed to leak.

I know that.

So?

But our system works on the basis of information, and getting information out through a free press.

But isn't there some information that the public shouldn't have for national security reasons?

Yes, I think that's right; there is some. When I was an embedded reporter, I came across that information all the time. It involved operational details that could imperil the operations of the war, that could endanger soldiers and soldiers' lives, that could endanger Iraqis who were cooperating with the United States. That kind of information is definitely dangerous. ...

Reporters don't publish information that intentionally jeopardizes people. I don't know reporters who would, for example, fail to cooperate with the authorities if he had information about a kidnapped child, which is something that's frequently hauled out in congressional testimony against a shield law. Reporters are citizens, too. But we have an obligation that's recognized under the Constitution to publish information that the public has a right to know, so we have to make these calls day in and day out.

Yes, it is tricky. Yes, mistakes will be made. But I would rather err on the side of a free press than an unfree press, or a guided press, or a shackled press, or a terrified and intimidated press. And that seems to be where we're heading.

But don't reporters sometimes overstep the bounds?

Yes.

Don't they sometimes take confidential information and, let's say, use it to try and get a story, and maybe endanger a government case or maybe inadvertently or in the enthusiasm to get a break, a news, a scoop, do something that could endanger an investigation or national security?

Yes, I'm sure there are situations like that.

So how do you bring that under control if you can't subpoena the reporters or get to the bottom of it?

Well, first of all, even the Justice Department guidelines say that the government has to exhaust all other alternatives before it subpoenas journalists. ... I think you have to strike a balance. I think a federal shield law that protects national security from imminent future harm would be the kind of law that would strike that balance. It would protect reporters and their sources. I don't like the notion of these shield laws as reporters' shield law. They're really the public's shield law. ... It's the public's right to know that's being protected, not mine.

But I can hear somebody out there saying: "Wait a second, Ms. Miller. You're a citizen of the United States first. Don't you have an obligation to testify if there's a violation of the law, just like any other citizen?"

Not about confidential sources. If I see something on the street, if I see a crime and I'm not doing my job, I have an obligation just like any citizen to testify. But when the issue involves the protection of confidential sources and the preservation of a free and independent press, I think it becomes much, much more problematic.

And to those in the business who say there is a point where the Supreme Court refuses to hear your case and recognize your privilege, the ones that say you've got to testify?

No. I have to go to jail. I don't have to testify necessarily. I have a choice. I was honoring the law and accepting the law as it was interpreted in my case; that I felt as a matter of conscience and profession and principle that I had to go to jail rather than testify until I got a voluntary personal waiver from my source. That's my standard, and I think it's the right one. I thought it was the right one then, and I think it's correct today. ...

[You didn't feel that] the communications between your attorney and the attorney for your source [constituted a waiver]?

I know there was a lot of discussion between my attorneys and a lot of back-and-forth. But I knew this source; he knew me. If he had wanted me to testify, he could have conveyed that in a personal way, and he did not until I had been in jail for 85 days. At that point, he did. I am very grateful that he did finally. I accepted the waiver once it was personal, voluntary, written, and I could question him about it. That was my standard. ...

Well, you know, it's one of the other complications that makes your situation and the situation around this case difficult for people to understand. Why would you go to jail for 85 days, that you couldn't make this deal beforehand?

I didn't get the letter beforehand. If I'd gotten the letter from Scooter Libby beforehand and been able to talk to him about it, I wouldn't have gone to jail. I didn't have what I needed.

But there was a second part to what I needed. It wasn't only a waiver from Mr. Libby that I needed. I also needed the special prosecutor to tell me that he wouldn't be asking me about any other sources in my notebook other than Mr. Libby. ... Until he agreed that I would not be subjected to the kind of open-ended investigation into my sources, I also could not cooperate and could not come out of jail. So I really needed both. ... Without those two elements, I would still be in jail today. ...

We interviewed [Times executive editor] Bill Keller. Basically what he said was in hindsight, he feels like maybe we could have avoided this whole thing of Judy going to jail, and that we really maybe did not pursue a waiver and go about doing that in a way that we could have avoided this from the beginning.

That's his view.

Well, in the end, everyone did testify, including you.

Yes, but not on the basis of an anonymous blanket waiver. There is a difference between me and my colleagues who testified and when they testified. ...

Bill Keller is entitled to any view that he has. I would point out that when I was in jail, he supported me, and when I came out of jail, he was with me at my side at the press conference. The paper stood with me through this ordeal.

But there was a dissolution of that support after you got out of jail?

Yes.

Because?

I think you'll have to ask them. I never changed my view or my position. I think I made the right decision to go to jail, and I think I made the right decision to come out of jail when I did.

Did you feel betrayed by the paper?

I'm not going to comment about that. I had 28 wonderful years at The New York Times. I think it's a great institution, full of talent and energy and dynamism, and I don't regret any of it. I am obviously very disappointed that some people now feel that my ordeal was not worth it. But for me it was, and I'm very comfortable with the decision I made. ...

You know, you said that the others involved didn't get the same kind of waiver, but they disagree with you. They say that they did get a voluntary waiver.

As I said, it's up to every journalist to make that decision himself or herself in the absence of federal shield legislation. Without a law protecting us, there's always going to be chaos and confusion about whether or not we should cooperate and when and what constitutes a voluntary as opposed to coerced waiver. That's why we need a law. ...

I did not want to go to jail. I did not seek to be a "martyr" for the First Amendment. That was the last thing I was thinking of. What I was thinking about was the next time when I say to somebody, "I will protect you if you give me information that's important," will that person believe me? Will the person believe any of us? That's what I worry about all the time.

Well, set yourself aside for a second. Did this case in the end give the public or that person who may want to talk any confidence that reporters aren't going to testify?

I don't know. In my case, I've had people, sources say to me, "Thank you." I have done several stories on weapons of mass destruction since leaving jail, several stories involving classified information, and people have continued talking to me. So I feel comfortable that they know that I was willing to spend 85 days in jail protecting them -- and longer if I had to. …

After you got out of jail, there was a firestorm of criticism about you, your choices. One time you called it a "40-day tsunami." Your Times ran stories. Maureen Dowd wrote a column called "Woman of Mass Destruction."

It started when I was in jail. ... And it was particularly painful and frustrating while I was in jail, because I wasn't at liberty to defend myself or to say that these stories were completely false and malicious. ...

The suspicion, the motivation, which we've had some people say to us on camera, is that you were becoming a martyr to re-establish your credibility because of all the criticism you got about your WMD reporting.

Going to jail for me was not a career move, a career-enhancement move. Going to jail was something I felt I had to do; I didn't want to do [it]. I hadn't sought a confrontation with the government. I'd never written anything. It was a question of principle and conscience. And whatever anyone else said, in a way, was irrelevant to me. It was painful. It was extremely painful for my friends and family. But I knew why I was in jail. And I knew that I was in jail for a cause that I thought was essential to our profession. So I was very comfortable with the decision. But was it painful? Yes. Was it disappointing? Yes. Was it infuriating sometimes? Yes. It's journalism. ...

I just want to say something. As painful as those bloggers were who were saying these things, I have to really stress that the support for me when I was in jail was kind of overwhelming. I got thousands of letters. ... [Former Sen.] Bob Dole came to see me twice. Journalists from all over the world were writing to me. I was honored after I got out of jail by the Society of Professional Journalists, given a First Amendment Award. So some people did get it. ...

I think it was a small, very politicized group of reporters and bloggers who really disagreed with the decision in principle because they disliked the administration so much. ...

Well, it's not for me to say whether they did or not, but there's a group of people who felt that you were doing this to make up for the problems with the WMD coverage.

I didn't feel that I had anything to apologize for with my WMD coverage. I had done the best that I could at the time with the information that was available to me. I had worked very hard when I got information that disagreed with the administration's intelligence assessments to get that information out. I went back to Iraq a second [time] in order to write a story about mobile labs and all of the doubts among the technical experts about whether or not those were mobile germ labs as the CIA contended. Every time I was permitted to follow a story and report it out, I did so.

But journalism is not omniscient. Journalism is a process of writing what you know when you know it, being as honest as you can with the reader about where the information is coming from, and evaluating it at the time. ...

You've said that you may have gotten some of the stories wrong because your sources were wrong.

Right. They gave me information that I believe they believed. It was information that was given to the president. The National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] went to the president. When George Bush asked his director of central intelligence, "Is this the best you've got on WMD?," we learned from Bob Woodward [that] George Tenet's answer was the famous, "Slam dunk, Mr. President."

Well, if the president was being given this information, it was the official intelligence assessment of the United States government and the intelligence community. I believed that they wouldn't give the president false information.

I'll say something else about WMD: It's a very hard area to write about. I was not alone. Many other papers did the same kind of reporting that I did. I think because The New York Times is the paper that it is and I had written for so long about it, I was --

You were the leader. You were the expert in this area.

I was the alleged expert. There were other experts. But in the first Gulf War in '91, the CIA had said that there was no WMD threat, ... and they found that, in fact, Iraq was perhaps a year away from having a nuclear capability. I think our experience in Iraq and our experience with the U.S. intelligence community led many of us to believe that, if anything, the intelligence community would minimize a threat rather than exaggerate it. ...

I always tried to take that information and to vet [it] against the international inspectors. I always took the information and went to private analysts and said, "Does this sound right to you?" Was it perfect? No. Was it wrong? Yes, it turned out after the fact to be wrong. But as I say, the answer to wrong stories is more reporting.

I could hear somebody saying the CIA got all these things wrong; the intelligence community got all these things wrong. They were your sources.

Yes.

OK. So why weren't you more skeptical?

I was skeptical. I thought that, once again, the intelligence community might be underestimating the threat.

Also, we have to remember this threat was being evaluated in the aftermath of 9/11. ... I think we were all influenced by that event, and it probably led me to not question hard enough whether or not the information being given to the president was perhaps exaggerated.

But was I skeptical? Yes. Did I do the best job I could to evaluate the information I had at the time? Yes, I did. I simply couldn't get it. And every time I got more information that contradicted that assessment, I published it.

I've met [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi, one of your sources.

A source always identified by name in stories, and identified by me as an opposition leader who wanted to replace Saddam Hussein, who wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. I don't believe that I quoted Mr. Chalabi as just a source blindly. I think he was almost always on the record with me.

But he provided you with defectors?

No, he provided me with one defector. (Laughs.)

Who turned out to be not reliable.

No, I think there's still a question about the story I wrote years before the Iraq war. He was someone who had fled Iraq. I think there's still a debate within the intelligence community about what parts of his testimony were accurate.

But he was a source of information -- and through people that he knew and others around him -- who provided you with information that Saddam did have things like mobile labs.

What I wrote in the Times was that he said he had been asked to make changes in facilities that were consistent with their being able to store weapons of mass destruction. He never said, and we never published, that he had actually seen such agents or such weapons. I clearly identified Mr. Chalabi's role in directing that source to me. ...

Do you think you may have gotten carried away in your pursuit of a scoop; that you got manipulated; that you believed without questioning enough?

No. I think I was skeptical. I was always skeptical of the information, and I did the best I could to try and vet it. It was hard, because a lot of this information was classified, and a lot of people didn't know about it, so I was in effect telling them for the first time when I was trying to evaluate it. This is not a science. Journalism is not perfect. You do the best you can. And if you don't get it, you go back and you do it again.

So then why have you even said -- you characterized yourself as being "Miss Run Amok."

Oh, that was a bureaucratic joke. I was making fun of myself. One of the senior editors at the paper had asked me to go to Washington and to get front-page stories. ... Newspapers are notoriously turf-driven, and a paper like the Times is very protective, reporters are very protective of their beats and their sources. ...

I was told to go down there and just break news and make news and shake things up. I said: "That's an impossible situation. That's an impossible assignment. They'll say, 'There she comes. Here I am, Miss Run Amok.'" It was a kind of a joke that was masquerading a complaint. (Laughs.) ...

But you know, Judy -- and I've said this to you before -- ... you're aggressive.

Sure.

You're obsessed.

Yes.

You've got sharp elbows.

Right. You have to to do good journalism, I think, and to break news, you have to be relentless. I am, and I was, and that's me.

Did you pay for it in the end in this battle, that so many people criticized you?

Maybe. Maybe that was part of it. I wasn't Miss Congeniality. I didn't spend a lot of time schmoozing by the coffee cart. I was totally driven. And after 9/11, I was completely and totally driven, because that had been such a deeply upsetting event, particularly so for me, because I had been writing about Al Qaeda for years. ...

Let me read you what Bill Keller told us: "Judy, I think, shares the responsibility" -- this is for the paper's coverage of WMD -- "because she came up with questionable information from questionable sources. The paper shares responsibility for not second-guessing and third-guessing her on those stories, and then for putting them on the top of the front page."

Mr. Keller was not in charge of the paper at that time, and he doesn't know what was done to try and evaluate that information. I don't accept that criticism. I know that the person who was vetting the stories was never asked what he tried to do to verify the information, and I'm very comfortable that we did the best job that we could with the information we had at the time. ...

Now, years later, what's your evaluation of the way not just you but the news media covered the run-up to the war?

Oh, I think, you know, as [head of the Iraq Survey Group] David Kay said, the information was wrong. (Laughs.) We were all wrong. ... I worry to this day that the American people still haven't had a good accounting of what was done with the information that the White House received.

There were two parts of the investigation into what went wrong with respect to weapons of mass destruction. One was, was the information correct? We've had a lot of investigation into that -- many commissions, many independent inquiries. I think we have a good understanding of that, but the second part of that inquiry, which is what was done with the information?

What do you mean?

In other words, was the information that the White House was given exaggerated? Was it put out in a distorted way? That's the second part of the investigation that the oversight committees in Congress were supposed to look into, and they still haven't done it. The American people still don't know, and I think that's scandalous. ...

When you use a confidential source, how do you describe them when you write about them?

You try and give the reader as much information as you can about whether or not the source is in a position to know what he's talking about and what the source's motivation might be. You do as much as you can to identify where the person is in the information chain and what his motivation or her motivation might be while still protecting that person's identity. …

Ever tempted to describe them in a fictional way?

Tempted? Yes. Do it? No. I have never lied about who the source is. Never. And there's never been an allegation anywhere in The New York Times that I've done that. I don't believe in that. That's not being honest with the reader. ...

You've written that in your discussions with Mr. Libby, you discussed with him identifying him as "a former Hill staffer," something that he hasn't been for many years and isn't. Isn't that misleading?

He asked to be identified as a former Hill staffer. I agreed to listen to what he had to say on that basis. I never agreed to publish a story with that attribution, and I would not have done so. It would not have appeared in The New York Times. ... I think you agree to listen; you try to find out what the source wants to tell you, and then you discuss with him the circumstances under which you're willing to publish it. ...

When you came out of jail, you declared victory, basically.

Yes, I thought that I had achieved something short of a federal shield law. I thought I had set a standard; I had set a kind of a new standard for what constituted a voluntary waiver, and I had hoped that others would use that standard to evaluate confidential sources and when a waiver was truly voluntary. That's what I had hoped.

That's not the way it went down in the public.

No, I think it was confusing for people. Some people believed that in our profession, that no waiver would have ever been sufficient; that I should not under any circumstances had ever testified or cooperated. I call those people -- and I have great respect for them, but once again, I disagree with their position -- First Amendment absolutists. ...

I thought that once my source had given me a personal and a voluntary waiver and I had protected other sources that were not related to this case, that I had fulfilled my obligation both to that source and to my other sources and that I was free to cooperate. That was the position that I took from the beginning. ...

If you could replay events, is there anything you would do differently?

No, no. I felt I had to go to jail to protect my source. There were tactical disagreements about when and how I should come out of jail. But when I got what I felt I could live with, what I felt was an honest, personal, voluntary waiver from the source, when I felt I could protect my other sources, I didn't see why I should spend an extra day in jail simply to fulfill the four-month sentence. ...

I feel manipulated by some of the people I dealt with in the run-up to the war about information that I got or sources that were supplied to me. ... You don't seem angry with your sources who were wrong, manipulated by your sources who were wrong, and, in some cases, potentially consciously knew that their information wasn't very good.

... I'm not bitter about the people who tried to "spin me," because that goes with the territory. That goes with reporting in Washington. People are always trying to do that. I'm angry with the people who conveniently -- after the fact, that were involved in this chaotic and deadly war -- who say: "I might have done something before, but I didn't. But it's the journalists' fault." I think those are the people whom I really resent. I'm just sorry they didn't talk to me, because my stories would have been more balanced. ...

 
Walter Pincus

Reporter, The Washington Post

Walter Pincus

What did you think when [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller] went to jail?

I think everybody makes their own choices, and that was her choice.

You think it accomplished anything?

I don't know. I think it's hard to say. But it clearly, in retrospect, became very controversial.

Because?

In the end she testified.

So she no longer was, if you will, a martyr or a symbol of defiance against a subpoena?

I think she still is in some people's mind.

A symbol?

And I think she's out now talking about a shield law and the necessity for a shield law.

 
William Bradford Reynolds

Former assistant attorney general

William Bradford Reynolds

Well, I think that the [New York Times reporter] Judith Miller case, if that had been pressed, would have presented the issue in a more murky kind of a context [than the BALCO case], because there it's quite clear no crime was committed. It was the identity of a source who was giving information, but it wasn't criminal to give that information. So the question is, is it necessary to haul the reporter in to disclose the identity of a confidential source where it's not leading to any kind of crime or criminal conduct that the grand jury's interested in? That's where I think Powell says you ought to look at it more carefully, and certainly Justice Potter Stewart in his dissent said that would be something where the balance might tip in favor of the reporter. That would have been an issue where it struck me that if you were going to test Branzburg, you might want to do it through that kind of a case rather than come in through the BALCO case. …

 
Tom Rosenstiel

Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism

Tom Rosenstiel

How did this come to be on Judith Miller's head?

I don't remember the number now, but there were about a half a dozen reporters who were involved in this case and who were asked to testify. Gradually, every single one of them capitulated and ended up testifying; in other words, saying, "I know I granted these sources anonymity, and I know that in some cases I didn't even write a story, but I'm going to testify anyway." This goes against the grain of all the training that journalists have, which is, "If I give you my word that I'll protect you, I'll go to jail." …

Suddenly Judy Miller of The New York Times, a reporter who is extremely controversial and whose work on weapons of mass destruction had been largely repudiated by the time of the Plame case, is now the last standard-bearer, the last reporter who is willing to stand up to protect her sources. Whatever mixed feelings [people] had about Judy Miller, or even who her sources might be, there was a lot of residual respect for the fact that she went to jail and sat in a jail cell and actually slept on the floor and not even on a cot, because she had to share the jail cell with another inmate, and the other inmate got the cot. So there were a lot of mixed feelings here among reporters. I think those mixed feelings persisted until Judy Miller explained in her own words her motivations and her decision, ultimately, to testify. …

It seems like she was attacked pretty strongly.

Right. The Miller case is complicated because she's so complicated. She had been a champion, really, of the administration's point of view in the run-up to the war with her coverage of weapons of mass destruction, which supported the administration's point of view; relied heavily on sources that the administration was promoting, particularly [Iraqi National Congress founder] Mr. [Ahmad] Chalabi; and was then an extremely controversial character inside The New York Times and inside the journalism fraternity. …

I think that Judith Miller was perceived as a complex but heroic figure until the very moment that she decided to get out of jail. What did her in, in the end, was her own words. Her own explanation of why she chose, in the end, to testify, and to respect the waiver was unpersuasive to reporters. She said, in the end, that, "I chose that I owed it to myself to get out of jail." And people said: "Well, what does that mean? What First Amendment principle are you upholding at that point?"

Then her explanation went on to talk about the details of her interaction with her source, [then-Chief of Staff to Dick Cheney] Scooter Libby, and journalists were even more concerned. She granted him confidentiality. It was so protective that it didn't appear that her motivation was to work in the public interest at all. She was willing, at one point, to describe him as a former Capitol Hill aide, which, as The Washington Post later said, is the equivalent of describing a person in Washington as "some guy." Within days, frankly, of her first-person account in The New York Times, her career in The New York Times was effectively over. …

 
Bob Woodward

Reporter, The Washington Post

Bob Woodward

But when you saw your colleagues and others attack [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller as, in a sense, the person responsible for the WMD misinformation story, was that unfair? ... She said something to us very similar to what you said: She's "only as good as [her] sources." All her sources were telling her the same thing.

OK. But she had the wrong sources. And the excuse can't be, "I'm only as good as my sources." Now, if you talked to everyone and exhausted every possible avenue, then you can say that, but no reporter ever does that. So if your sources are wrong, you're wrong, and you have to accept responsibility for that. And you have to dig as hard as possible.

I think we all dropped the ball. My personal response is to think about my own role, and it should have been much more aggressive. If I correct that, then maybe I can criticize or point fingers at other reporters.

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posted feb. 13, 2007; last updated feb. 27, 2007

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