Judith Miller Saga Recalls the 'Punch and Judy' Show

Beginning in the Middle Ages, there was a widely popular puppet show called “Punch and Judy.” Most of its content and humor were based on two characters flailing away at each other with slap sticks. Today, we have a verbal equivalent of the same thing, occurring in the pages of the New York Times. These protagonists are Arthur (“Pinch”) Sulzberger Jr., boy-publisher of the Times, and Judith (“Judy”) Miller, one-time rising star writer for that paper.

Judy says she told the truth and upheld the values of the Times. Slap! Pinch says she misled her editors and brought the reputation of the Times into question. Slap! Slap! But unlike its medieval ancestor, the Pinch and Judy Show has four participants. And they are not evenly matched.

Like tag team wrestling matches when the referee is looking the other way, Judy is being attacked by three people at one time. In addition to Pinch, there is Bill (“Petrushka”) Keller, the editor of the Times, and Maureen (“Cruella”) Dowd.

Bill Keller has weighed in with comments that Judy has “drifted” into covering stories she’d been removed from, and that she has “misled” the editors of the paper. Slap! Slap! Slap! “Drifted”? Isn’t it part of the job description of an Editor in Chief to keep the staff from drifting?

But the biggest whacks are taken by Maureen. In her column, “Woman of Mass Destruction,” she says that Judy has a “peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur,” that she is “in need of a tight editorial leash, [but] was kept on no leash at all,” and implies that she in part slept her way to the top by calling her “the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp.” Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

Since the Times in its infinite wisdom has sought to make Internet users pay for access to the screeds of its stable of literary egos, Maureen’s column is now theoretically unavailable for free on the Internet. Thanks to the efforts of a blogger known as Peking Duck, here is that column:

Source: http://www.pekingduck.org/archives/003038.php#003038

Is this whole imbroglio merely a source of entertainment, like the original Punch and Judy Show? Not that pure slap stick is an unworthy purpose. That Show led to vaudeville, the Three Stooges, Chevy Chase and Gerald Ford, among others. Surely that’s a greater contribution to Western Civilization than the collected works of Professor Noam Chomsky, for instance.

But there is a real point in the Pinch and Judy Show. Judy went to jail for 85 days to “protect her sources,” and thereby to protect all reporters, all newspapers, and truth, justice and the American way. But after a pas de deux about the adequacy of her releases from her sources, she rolled the stone away from her tomb and came out and testified that she “didn’t know” who gave her the name of Valerie Plame, wife of discredited Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Hellooo? Didn’t know? That doesn’t pass the sniff test, as we lawyers describe it. Truth is not yet on the table. And it may or may not be, when prosecutor Fitzgerald issues his indictments, vel non, on Friday. It may take some time to get to the bottom of this story. And based on its coverage so far, the Times will probably be the last to report it, even though the facts are already inside its own walls.

As for the title of this piece, it is perfect. The credit goes not to me, but to Leni, known on the Internet as MinuteGal, who came up with it.

John_Armor@aya.yale.edu