Just Say "Judy" -- Then Shut Up Again

October 12th, 2005 11:48 AM
The New York Times breaks its weird silence on reporter Judy Miller, with David Johnston's article (a page A16 piece that lacks even a front-page blurb) marking her testimony today to the grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's name.

But the story contains little news, just a run-down of the complicated story of C.I.A. operative Plame and her husband, disgraced anti-Bush diplomat Joseph Wilson, plus a defense from the paper's executive editor as to why the paper can't run a real story on Miller just yet.

Further downplaying the Times connection is the accompanying photo, which features not Miller but another player in the investigation, Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby.

Johnston quotes Executive Editor Bill Keller's explanation for the silence at the Times: "In his statement to the staff on Tuesday, Mr. Keller said the contempt order under which Ms. Miller had been jailed still remained in effect, meaning that she 'is not yet clear of legal jeopardy.'

"'As we've told readers,' Mr. Keller said, 'once her obligations to the grand jury are fulfilled, we intend to write the most thorough story we can of her entanglement with the White House leak investigation. It's a complicated story involving a large cast, and it has required a meticulous reporting effort -- in part to chase down and debunk some of the myths kicked up by the rumor mill.'"

The Times didn't consider the Plame investigation quite so "complicated" at first, but instead as a clear case of White House perfidy. A December 31, 2003 editorial welcomed the appointment (after an "egregiously long delay") by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and stated as a matter of fact that the leak of Plame's name had "violated federal law."

The paper wrote: "Mr. Fitzgerald is charged with finding out who violated federal law by giving the name of the undercover intelligence operative to Mr. Novak for publication in his column."

At the time it appeared the most likely targets for indictment were clustered in the White House (with conservative commentator Robert Novak also a possibility).

But when Fitzgerald's prosecutorial sharks began circling reporter Judy Miller over telephone conversations she had with sources, the paper changed its editorial tune, grabbing a Washington Post story for a lifeline in a February 2005 editorial that floated the convenient idea that the leak which had "violated federal law" 14 months ago may not have been illegal after all: "Meanwhile, an even more basic issue has been raised in recent articles in The Washington Post and elsewhere: the real possibility that the disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity, while an abuse of power, may not have violated any law."