New York Times: Standing on Principle or spoiling for a high profile fight?

While <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8555465/site/newsweek/">Eleanor Clift is heralding Judith Miller</a> as a principled journalist taking a fall to cover for an possibly criminal secret source in her recent column in Newsweek, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/12/AR200507... Kurtz</a> in today’s Washington Post reports that many legal experts believe that Miller’s jail time is the product of her and the New York Times’s stubborness, not a stand on journalistic principle but rather, in the words of legal expert Jonathan Turley, "spoiling for a fight."

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Kurtz notes in the lede of his article that: "Tim Russert of NBC, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post and Matthew Cooper of Time were all subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. But only New York Times reporter Judith Miller is in jail today."

Later Kurtz reports that while journalists subpoenaed by the grand jury rejected the White House-issued staff waivers which granted blanket waivers of confidentiality, that most of the journalists called to testify were able to work out compromises with the prosecutors such that they could testify without giving up their sources: “Earlier in the investigation, NBC and Post journalists who were subpoenaed worked out agreements with special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald to provide limited testimony in ways they said did not compromise their promises to sources. Novak and his attorney have refused to say whether he cooperated with the prosecutor.”

Kurtz goes on later to quote constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School: “‘with all the reporters who found ways around this, there was the impression that the New York Times was spoiling for a fight.’ But he added that there is no way to know for sure. Turley said he found it ‘strange’ that Miller and her attorney have said nothing about seeking a personal waiver from her source or sources. "That seemed to me a step they could have taken," he said.

Of course, that doesn't sound as dramatic as the Eleanor Clift take, where Judith Miller is a principled journalist, baptized by fire, who will emerge vindicated some day vindicated and rich:

<blockquote>
It is a travesty that the only person going to jail didn’t even report on the story that is at the core of the investigation. But for those who have followed Miller’s work, there is poetic justice in her having to defend the same cast of characters who likely fed her all that bogus information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Times, in its mea culpa on its reporting about claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, revealed in embarrassing detail the extent to which Miller had relied on questionable sources like the administration-backed Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician with a vested interest in a war to oust Saddam. The Times stood by her, but her reputation was badly damaged. Now that she’s emerged as a symbol of a free and determined press, her career has been rejuvenated and there’s already talk of a book deal and lecture tour when she’s released. Thrust into the forefront of a pivotal media case, Miller is proving a worthy defendant.</blockquote>

Don't expect liberal journalists to deviate much from Clift's mythology, even as many of their colleagues have been able to uphold their journalistic integrity while obeying the rule of law.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters