As Inkwell readers know, I am transfixed by the spectacle of the New York Times’ unprecedented devouring one of its own, reporter Judy Miller. Like a lot of people in Washington and New York, I am an inveterate Miller watcher.

The exquisite nastiness of Times diva Maureen Dowd’s attack on Miller (previously mentioned here — “Dowdfall“) will win the piece a prominent place when the definitive history of the Times comes to be written.

It is available only to subscribers, but John Podhoretz hits the high points:

“Dowd had the gall to say she ‘liked’ Miller even as she calmly dumped a bucket of slime over Miller’s ‘tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur.'”

Admittedly, that is a good summary of Judy — but why on earth is her own newspaper attempting to destroy her? They knew she had an affinity for powerful men when they hired her. I certainly did. This kind of attack is not only highly unusual — it has simply never happened before in the annals of American journalism.

“Previously,” notes Podhoretz, “when newspapers have taken their own work to task, it has resulted from one of two causes. A reporter was caught committing outright acts of plagiarism or fabrication — as with The Washington Post’s Janet Cooke or the Times’ Jayson Blair. Or the paper needed to clear the name of an innocent person whom the newspaper had effectively tried and convicted of a serious crime – as the Atlanta Journal and Constitution did to Richard Jewell, falsely accused of the 1996 Millennium Park bombing, and the Times did to Wen Ho Lee, falsely accused of spying.

“The issue that has ostensibly caused this unprecedented character assassination is Miller’s involvement in the public exposure of CIA operative Valerie Plame. And in this case, no one at the paper is accusing Miller of making anything up — because she never published anything on the subject. Nor can anyone accuse Judith Miller of harming the reputation of an innocent — because, again, she never published.

“So what is it she supposedly did wrong?”

As I have noted, Miller’s sin was that she wasn’t in step with the anti-Bush line mandatory at all posh papers. This can be dangerous to your career.

“Of course,” writes Podhoretz, “none of this Miller character assassination has anything to do with the Valerie Plame story. Rather, it has to do with the war in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction — and the peculiar solipsism of both the staff of The New York Times and the paper’s liberal readership….

“The not-so-hidden truth is that Miller’s critics believe that she bears some responsibility — maybe even all the responsibility — for the fact that America went to war with Iraq. Why? Because she published some articles that offered evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — articles whose evidence turned out to be untrue. She didn’t know it to be untrue, and neither did those who passed it to her. Nonetheless, she has become part of the lunatic case against the war — dragged into the never-ending BUSH LIED meme.

“There’s something comic about this, as if Miller’s coverage changed the course of history because it appeared in … gasp …. omigod … the Times….

“Because, you know, the world revolves around the Times. The world spins and spins on its axis around a liberal newspaper of declining influence…whose most famous and powerful staffers now think there’s great merit in devouring their own.”

Interestingly enough, this could have a chilling effect on journalism at the Times — reporters now know that if they stray from the liberal party line, they will not be safe from their own colleagues.

Most of these intrepid scribes are far more affraid of the opinions of their peers than a special prosecutor with a jail key.

The destruction of Judy Miller, whatever you think about Miller herself, is not a bright day for journalism.