WASHINGTON – In the latest fallout from the CIA leak investigation, reporter Judith Miller (search) and The New York Times are engaging in a very public fight about her seeming lack of candor in the case.
In a memo to the staff, Executive Editor Bill Keller (search) says Miller "seems to have misled" the newspaper's Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, who said Miller told him in the fall of 2003 that she was not one of the recipients of a leak about the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Miller says Keller's criticism is "seriously inaccurate."
"I certainly never meant to mislead Phil, nor did I mislead him," Miller was quoted as saying in a Times story Saturday.
According to a Times story on Oct. 16, Miller told Taubman two years ago that the subject of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson (search) and Wilson's wife, Plame, had come up in casual conversation with government officials, but that Miller said "she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information."
In recent weeks, Miller testified to the grand jury in the leak probe that she had discussed Wilson and his wife in three conversations with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in June and July of 2003.
Keller wrote that if he had known of Miller's "entanglement" with Libby, he might have been more willing to explore compromises with the prosecutor who was trying to get her testimony for the criminal investigation into the leak of Plame's identity.
Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. She was freed on Sept. 29 when she finally agreed to testify.
Responding to Keller's criticism, Miller told the newspaper, "I was unaware that there was a deliberate, concerted disinformation campaign to discredit Wilson and that if there had been, I did not think I was a target of it."
"As for your reference to my 'entanglement' with Mr. Libby, I had no personal, social or other relationship with him except as a source," Miller said.
Underlying the issue is Miller's own flawed prewar reporting on Iraq.
Her stories pointing to the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq helped clear a path for the administration's arguments in favor of going to war. No weapons of mass destruction have been found, and Keller said he regretted waiting a year before confronting problems with Miller's reporting.
In his memo, Keller wrote that the newspaper in the summer of 2003 had just been through the trauma of the Jayson Blair episode, in which a reporter was found to have fabricated articles, resulting in the departure of the Times' executive editor and managing editor.
"It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors," Keller wrote. By waiting more than a year, he said, "We allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester. Worse, we fear, we fostered an impression that the Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers."
Op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd weighed in with further criticism in Saturday's Times. "Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, (Miller) was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers," Dowd wrote.
If Miller returns to covering national security issues, Dowd wrote, "the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands."
In a column written for Sunday's editions of The Times, public editor Byron Calame wrote, "It seems to me that whatever the limits put on her, the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter."