The spectacle of the New York Times disavowing yet another privileged reporter, Judith Miller, is just too delicious–but I have a few caveats on why the pleasure is not unalloyed.
But first the pleasure:
USA Today has the day-by-day log on the Times’ repudiation of one of its own big stars, who spent 85 days in jail with (as USA Today notes) “the support of her editors.”
But no longer. Times editor Bill Keller’s sent an email to the staff late last week stating that Miller “seems to have misled” her employer (on the subject of alleged leaks in the torturous case of Valerie Plame) and that the Times should have moved quickly to correct Ms. Miller’s reporting on WMDs in Iraq.
As emotionally devastating to Miller had to be columnist Maureen Dowd’s Saturday attack. Ms. Down wrote that, if Judy Miller, who is now on leave, returns to the Times, “the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.”
Why is the spectacle of watching the Times devour its own not an unadulterated pleasure?
One of the reasons Miller is so hated at the Times is that Miller was insufficiently hostile to the Bush administration. She got the WMD story wrong. But mistakes happen, even at the best of newspapers. Ms. Miller’s real sin was erring on the side of the hated Bush administration.
Message to Judy from her peers in the newsroom: Walk in lockstep. If you wander off the reservation (to indulge in several clichés at once), we won’t stand by you. (One theory is that Miller went to jail as a way to regain professional stature by appearing to be a martyr.)
Another reason that this story does not bring me unalloyed joy is that, as the Katrina story showed, when it comes to a big visual story, the mainstream media can still write the compelling first draft of history. Stories such as this one are interesting only inside the the Beltway.
It is a complicated story spinning off from another complicated story, Plamegate.
In other words, Judy Miller is no Jayson Blair.
Still, it’s sorta fun.