October 10, 2005
The Shimmer: Missing Data at the New York Times
"Whereas a week ago, I was calling it 'Judy Miller's New York Times' to emphasize how she seemed to be the actor-in-chief, I now think it's more than that: a bigger unknown is affecting things. Not only is the Times not operating properly, it's unable to say to readers: here's why we're not."
(New post alert, Oct. 14, The Hypothesis: Notes on the Judy Miller Situation; and Oct. 12: The Times at Bay: Armchair Critic Speculates)
When I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges. There used to be an illustration in every elementary psychology book showing a cat drawn by a patient in varying stages of schizophrenia. This cat had a shimmer around it. You could see the molecular structure breaking down at the very edges of the cat: the cat became the background and the background the cat, everything interacting, exchanging ions…. certain images shimmer for me. Look hard enough, and you can’t miss the shimmer. It’s there.
— Joan Didion
“The news comes in code, and mostly the silences speak.” Last week, that’s how I described what happens when the New York Times reports about Judith Miller and her time in jail. This is still the case, and people in journalism are noticing how weird it is. “I find the Times’ conduct at this point inexplicable,” said Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine on CNN’s Reliable Sources. (I was on the show with him; so was Glenn Reynolds. The transcript.)
The host, Howard Kurtz, pointed out that when Isikoff’s poorly sourced story on the desecration of the Koran ran in Newsweek, (see PressThink on it) the editors “did an investigation and set the record straight.” Has the New York Times “come close to doing that here?” he asked.
No, it hasn’t. And no one knows why. The official story seems to be: “Wait for the official story.” Until then, normal operations are suspended. We’re told that Miller is talking to the paper’s reporters, and a major article is on the way. We’re also told it’s been delayed. There is no date for it. The editors will barely talk about it. Meanwhile the story keeps heating up. As ABC’s The Note observed today (Oct. 10):
If you aren’t spending 90% of your waking time thinking about this, talking about this, and doodling on your jeans about this, then you aren’t a member of the Gang of 500, and you probably never will be.
The gang, of course, is the Washington press.
It was on Oct. 2, the Sunday after Judith Miller’s release from prison, that the lines went dead. Just when you thought its reporting might intensify—with Miller free, her testimony apparently completed— Times journalism fell away to almost nothing. Observing the absence of any coverage (or even horn-tooting commemoration) in the big Sunday paper, Arianna Huffington wrote, “Has the New York Times ceased journalistic operations?” A good question then, it’s become more apt since.
As I said on Reliable Sources, the paper “has lost the capacity to tell the truth about itself in this story.” (I also said it may yet recover.) What we don’t know is why the Times has gone into editorial default. Nor do we know when normal operations will be restored. The explanations given don’t make much sense. From what I have been able to learn, concerned journalists at the paper, former Times staffers, and peers in national journalism are as baffled, as alarmed as the bloggers and critics. And of course no Times person even thinks of going on-the-record with any doubts— a statement in itself.
But whereas a week ago, I was calling it “Judy Miller’s New York Times” to emphasize how she seemed to be the actor-in-chief, I now think it’s more than that: a bigger unknown is affecting things. There are missing data we don’t even sense yet. I wish I could say what “it” is, but I can’t because I don’t know enough.
What I know is in fragments.
Among them is the biggest new fact: The Times reported Oct. 7 that Judy Miller may have to talk to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald again. Not good for transparency.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said Ms. Miller had been cautioned by her lawyers not to discuss the substance of her grand jury testimony until Mr. Fitzgerald finished questioning her.
“We have launched a vigorous reporting effort that I hope will answer outstanding questions about Judy’s part in this drama,” Mr. Keller said. “This development may slow things down a little, but we owe our readers as full a story as we can tell, as soon as we can tell it.”
What combination of things prevents the New York Times from telling us more right now? Again we don’t know, and the Times isn’t telling. The only explanation we have is: “…the paper had been wary of revealing too much about the case for fear of compounding Ms. Miller’s legal problems.” It feels constrained because the Fitzgerald investigation goes on. Which works for why Miller is not divulging her testimony.
- But would it explain why the columnists have been silent on the case since her release?
- Would it tell us why the Times hasn’t covered the reaction and controversy in journalism circles over the terms of Miller’s release?
- Does it make you curious that Keller has written no editor’s note about the glaring inability of the paper to tell us what it knows, or even do normal journalism?
- Do you understand why none of the bosses in this photograph has gone on television to explain how the paper is handling the Miller case and what it sees as the lesson, the stakes? They know Charlie Rose’s table is waiting.
- Now even if we could explain Keller’s reticence with “not making more trouble for Miller” (doesn’t make sense to me, but…); and even if we did understand why the columnists and media reporters and legal correspondents have fallen silent (doesn’t make sense to me, but…) we would still have to explain why the public editor, Byron Calame, whose whole job is to represent readers, sees no reason even to mention the matter in this Sunday’s column or at his web journal, which were invented for this very reason.
“I continue to watch developments in the Plame investigation with special interest,” Calame said in an e-mail to Salon. “If and when I have something to say, I will say it to the readers of the Times.” That makes no sense to me.
Even the fail safe mechanisms seem to have broken down. All the lessons in transparency that were learned after Jayson Blair have vanished from the building. Not only is the Times not operating properly, it’s unable to say to readers: here’s why we’re not operating properly. Meanwhile, Keller at a speech in Phoenix is dodging Miller questions, but dissing bloggers, the Wall Street Journal, Bill O’Reilly and the “journalism of assertion.” (And Arianna lets him have it.)
“They’re acting like the target of a scandal, ” said Glenn Reynolds in our Reliable Sources segment. “They’re not acting like the journalists who investigate a scandal.” True. The job of the editors is “to tell us what they know in the first instance, and they just haven’t been doing that.”
Like on Friday October 7, the day the Times told us Judy Miller was going back to talk with Fitzgerald again. It was the New York Observer that told us why. The Observer reported at its website that “lawyers for Miller have turned over an additional, previously unreported batch of notes on the New York Times reporter’s conversations with I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.”
These would be notes from a conversation she had about Joseph Wilson from before Wilson’s July 6, 2003 op-ed appeared. Why was she talking to Libby about Wilson before Wilson spoke out publicly in the Times? Perhaps because, as I noted in my July 16 post, Rollback, Wilson began his crusade by trying to leak his criticisms of the Bush White House— to Nick Kristof of the Times, among others. When that didn’t work he went public in an op-ed piece for the New York Times. Maybe Miller found out about Wilson from Kristof, or from the editorial pages as they negotiated for his article. Or maybe that’s crazy and would never happen.
The point is this is another area where the Times has left things opaque. It did report on the missing notes the next day, Oct. 8, and there too something strange happened. Follow this with me:
Let’s say the Times told readers about Miller returning to the grand jury so as to indicate why it could not yet reveal all in that “vigorous reporting effort” Keller has promised. And let’s say the Times withheld from readers the reason why she had to return (the discovery of the missing notes) so as not to run afoul of the prosecutor, who doesn’t want his possible targets learning what he’s learning. This make tactical sense, even though it puts the immediate interests of Judy Miller ahead of the immediate interests of Times readers— a problem throughout the case.
The New York Observer does not have such worries. It finds out about the notes and reveals their existence. The Times has to keeps its readers somewhat up to date, so the next day it reports on the notes in “me too” fashion. Under the principle of don’t anger the prosecutor by divulging future testimony it would report only what the Observer did, and no more. Is this what we find? No.
“The notes,” said the Observer, “could significantly change the time frame of Miller’s involvement with Libby.” But the Observer’s account was vague about when they were written (“possibly in May 2003” it said.) For the possible targets of the investigation, the “when” is critical. But the Times does not show that kind of reticence. Instead, reporter David Johnston spills a few beans:
The meeting is expected to focus on newly discovered notes compiled by Ms. Miller that refer to a conversation she had with Mr. Libby on June 25, 2003, according to a lawyer in the case who did not want to be named because Mr. Fitzgerald has cautioned against discussing the case. Until now, the only conversations known to have occurred between Ms. Miller and Mr. Libby were on July 8 and 12, 2003.
Is fixing the date consistent with playing it safe for Judy, and not wanting to piss off the prosecutor? Clearly not. It’s consistent with basic Times journalism, but then leaving the discovered notes out of the Oct. 7 account isn’t basic journalism, so what gives? We don’t know.
The Observer hints at the storm brewing:
The presence of the undisclosed set of notes comes as the Times is seeking to quell internal and external criticism over a lack of transparency in the Miller case. In today’s Times, executive editor Bill Keller said Miller’s potential return trip to meet with Fitzgerald could further delay the Times’ plans to publish an account of the Miller saga.
At this rate it’s hard to see that big article Keller promised appearing before Oct. 28, when Fitzgerald is expected to wrap up his investigation. (UPDATE: Keller’s upbeat memo to staff, Oct. 11.) One of the trickier parts of the “vigorous reporting effort” is that Keller is a major participant in the story he has ordered, and (apparently) placed all his chips upon.
Which is why Steve Lovelady of CJR Daily said Keller should recuse himself from the editing of it. We don’t know if he has; we know that Jonathan (“We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times”) Landman was assigned to oversee the reporting of the big explanatory article. I was told so by Times people, and so was the Observer:
Deputy managing editor Jonathan Landman, who has been tapped to edit the report, declined to discuss the state of the paper’s Miller reporting. “I’m not going to talk about it,” he said.
That’s typical. As is the way the Times has become unreliable in reporting on itself. Said Editor & Publisher on Oct. 8: “N.Y. Times’ Scooped Again, This Time on Miller’s Notes.” And where were Miller’s notes hiding? The New York Times knows, but it’s Michael Isikoff of Newsweek who tells on Oct. 9:
A notebook was discovered in the paper’s Washington bureau, reflecting a late June 2003 conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, about Wilson and his trip to Africa, says one of the lawyers.
That’s the Washington bureau, where (from what I’ve heard) they’re none too thrilled with Judy Miller and getting beaten on their own news. We need to know a lot more about this “discovery.” (See David Corn and the indefatigable Tom Maguire on it.) Sounds to me like it came from the Landman team, which is digging into what Miller was doing in June and July of 2003.
Greg Mitchell’s column, “The Case of the Missing Notebook,” asks many good questions; and he picks up on a point I made in News Comes in Code (See also Jane Hamsher.)
Why have the Times’ seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal? Conflicted? Afraid to appear disloyal? Or discouraged from commenting?
We have no answer to that. Times columnist Frank Rich—who writes about Washington scandals and earlier wrote about this one, as Stephen Spruiell reminds us—was also on “Reliable Sources” Sunday. Kurtz could have asked him: “Frank, why haven’t you written a column on Miller’s release and the questions left hanging?” But he didn’t. For certain Kurtz asked Bill Keller to appear on Sunday’s program, or to send another top editor. No dice. Again, it’s unclear why, since this would only help the Times.
I said in the “After” section of my last post that to begin to unravel the mystery of what’s going on here this Douglas Jehl story from July 27 is the starting point. It has a bland title: “Case of C.I.A. Officer’s Leaked Identity Takes New Turn.” The article compared the accounts of several reporters who had been entangled in the leak investigation. It said that a third source must exist, beyond Lewis Libby and Karl Rove. And it began an inquiry into a major unknown: what story was Judy Miller working on that would later bring her into Fitzgerald’s sights? We get a little information about it:
During that period, Ms. Miller was working primarily from the Washington bureau of The Times, reporting to Jill Abramson, who was the Washington bureau chief at the time, and was assigned to report for an article published July 20, 2003, about Iraq and the hunt for unconventional weapons, according to Ms. Abramson, who is now managing editor of The Times.
And then the door is shut, in a manner I have not seen before in a Times article. This to me is one of those “pictures that shimmer,” in Joan Didion’s phrase. Douglas Jehl of the Washington bureau presses the executive editor of the Times (his boss) for answers:
In e-mail messages this week, Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, and George Freeman, an assistant general counsel of the newspaper, declined to address written questions about whether Ms. Miller was assigned to report about Mr. Wilson’s trip, whether she tried to write a story about it, or whether she ever told editors or colleagues at the newspaper that she had obtained information about the role played by Ms. Wilson.
If we knew more about that moment it might take us to the bigger unknowns. Maybe Keller and Freeman’s refusals can be explained by the ongoing investigation, but then how would we account for Jehl’s discomforting questions? Why was Keller’s Washington bureau asking Keller questions that Keller refused to answer, and why did Keller’s Times run a story with a stonewalling Bill Keller featured in it? We have just the shimmer, the point where the cat becomes the background and the background the cat.
The investigation Jehl was undertaking apparently got stopped in July; now it has to re-start itself. One assumes this is what Landman and his reporters are doing. One hopes they understand how much of the newspaper’s reputation is in their hands. Political philosopher Peter Levine explains why in his commentary on my last post:
The implicit deal that the Times offers is this: We will cozy up to the power-brokers, but we will do it in your interests, so that we can keep you informed about their wheeling and dealing. When the Times becomes a power-broker itself, the deal comes into question. At that moment, the editors should understand that their whole justification is at stake, and they should rush to serve the public’s “right to know.” Failure to do so raises fundamental questions about the value of the New York Times that go far beyond any cases of misreporting or run-of-the-mill bias.
Exactly. People beyond the Times are starting to worry. I was watching in the green room when Gloria Borger of US News, sitting in Washington, “turned” to New York where Frank Rich was in the CNN studio: “I want to say to Frank,” she began. And a rare intensity came into her eyes. “We journalists who have been covering this story, we are all awaiting Judy Miller’s piece in The New York Times. We would like to read it, too.”
She pronounced the words slowly and gave him a look I would call imploring.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
This also ran at the Huffington Post.
Keller: Everything’s Under Control. His memo to Times staff (Oct. 11) is at the Poynter site.
As we’ve told readers, 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.
Judy has talked to our reporters already about her legal battle, but the story is incomplete until we know as much as we can about the substance of her evidence, and she is under legal advice not to discuss that until her testimony is completed. This may be frustrating to our armchair critics, and it is frustrating to all of us, but it is not unusual even for this investigation.
Read the rest of Keller’s note. The Times article about Miller’s second day of testimony is up. Nothing startling in it, but it corrects Michael Isikoff’s placement of Miller’s belatedly found notes. He reported them found in DC; they were in Manhattan.
Ms. Miller’s meeting with the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, focused on notes that she found in the Times newsroom in Manhattan after her appearance before the grand jury on Sept. 30. She took the notes during a conversation on June 23, 2003, with I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.
Meanwhile, there are new details from Garbriel Sherman in the New York Observer, who is far ahead on this story.
Newsweek reported this week that the new material had been found at The Times’ Washington bureau. That struck many as odd, since Ms. Miller doesn’t really work out of the Washington bureau. Washington bureau staffers said that they were unaware of any notes turning up on their turf.
“She’s not been here since her confinement,” a Washington bureau staffer said. “We’ve been left out of this story, and then suddenly it seemed like the bureau was involved, when in fact we weren’t.”
A lawyer familiar with the case said the new material came from Ms. Miller’s own notebook, turned over by her legal team.
Sounds to me like Miller’s lawyers misled Isikoff. Or he screwed up. But that’s speculation. Read the rest.
Howard Kurtz, saying he’s “a little more sympathetic than some of the critics,” joins the case of the missing Times journalism in his Media Notes column, Oct. 12:
The newsgathering mission of the Times—the responsibility to report aggressively on a story about the outing of a CIA operative that has reached the highest levels of the White House—has collided with the understandably human need to protect its reporter. In such a circumstance, the journalism must come first. Judy Miller is free to either talk to the Times or not talk to the Times about what she knows, but the paper’s editors should disclose what they know, and as soon as they possibly can.
Keller reminded Kurtz that the Times has a “good track record of reporting on itself,” as with the Jayson Blair trauma. So it deserves the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s time to come clean.” So says Rem Rieder, longtime editor of American Journalism Review, rising from his armchair to tell Keller he isn’t buying. (Oct. 12, Web-only special):
The New York Times has been extremely reticent on the subject. And each passing day it does more damage to its credibility.
It’s impossible to imagine the Times being so silent on any other story of this magnitude. Of course, the paper and its controversial reporter are at the heart of the story. That can make covering it embarrassing and painful.
It also makes it essential.
Rieder says the Times is “back in old-school mode, ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. But that just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’re not sure, ask Dan Rather.” Someone should.
It’s an armchair insurrection! EditorsWeblog (an internationl forum) sees danger: “The truth will eventually come out. If it is not read first from the pages of the New York Times, there will be grave consequences for the credibility of the Gray Lady.”
Steve Lovelady, now im his armchair days at CJR Daily, but previously in the hot seat as managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, says in comments (Oct. 11):
Keller, who is well aware of the discontent among his own staff at the Times’ silence on this case, sent [the] memo to all newsroom employees at 6:46 this evening. His wording makes it fairly clear that the Times is still dancing to the tune dictated by Bob Bennett, one of Miller’s lawyers. (Key distinction: Bennett is a criminal lawyer; Floyd Abrams, Miller’s earlier lawyer, is a First Amendment lawyer.)
Arianna Huffington gets calls:
There are three Times reporters working on the promised “thorough story”: Don Van Natta, who intimately knows Washington, on the investigative side, Adam Liptak on the legal side, and Janny Scott doing the actual writing. “This is Topic A on 43rd Street,” a Times source tells me. “It’s the only thing anyone is talking about. And everyone is waiting on pins and needles.” A sign of the growing nervousness is that, in private conversations, Jill Abramson, who was Miller’s editor on her WMD stories, is now “trying to distance herself from the whole thing”.
Editor & Publisher Allan Wolper: How Judith Miller Lost My Support. His perspective hasn’t been explored much. Admirers of her decision to go to jail are mystified that she ended her civil disobedience, turned over her notes and testified. See also Josh Marshall on it.
Someone with shall we say an interest in the case e-mailed me with this question: how can the Libby Waiver that Judy Miller won apply to the new notes discovered from June? Didn’t the aspens-are-turning letter only apply to the July conversations?
You have to read Chris Lydon of Open Source Radio in the comments. “For hungry hounds of news and for ‘the rising generation,’ in the late Times saint James Reston’s phrase, the Times will never again be ‘the paper of record,’ as we used to call it, or the first draft of history.”
Howard Kurtz, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, e-mails PressThink (Oct. 11): “I did indeed ask Keller if he or an editor of his choosing would come on the show, and he declined.” Mystifying decision (for now…)
And for the sluether in you: See Mark Kleiman channeling Jane Hamsher: Patrick Fitzgerald’s Mousetrap. Posits that Fitzgerald caught Miller committing perjury. But also see Talk Left’s Jeralyn Merrit, Judy Miller and Her June Notes.
That same Jeralyn Merrit comments on my last entry, where I said the Times had slipped behind the Washington Post:
I think when Fitzgerald’s investigation is over, and it becomes clear that Judith Miller didn’t go to jail because she is Saint Judy, protecting the First Amendment rights of journalists everywhere, but to protect her own career and sources, so no one would learn just how embedded she is with the Bush Admininstration, the Times will face a choice. It can continue to stand by Judy and settle for being Avis instead of Hertz. Or it can acknowledge the errors of its ways, promise to reform and try to work its way back to being number one.
Psst… Author and former FEED editor Steven Johnson is joining the NYU Journalism faculty. Very exciting news. Welcome SBJ. He wrote Everything Bad Is Good For You.
Mickey Kaus at Slate on the Times columnists remaining mute about Judy Miller:
Is this eerie collective silence the product of direct censorship or self-censorship? And if it’s self-censorship, as is likely, isn’t that worse? If you avoid saying things you think might annoy the boss, you may avoid saying more things than if the boss makes it clear, through direct communication, what actually annoys him and what doesn’t. That’s one reason there was more self-censorship when I worked at Newsweek under the benign, tolerant and non-interfering Katharine Graham than at the New Republic under the contentious and opinionated Martin Peretz. You never worried that Marty might be privately upset with you.
Jeff Jarvis in The Guardian (Oct. 10): “The internet is changing the nature of secrets.”
In a post called Dramatic Tension, Billmon speculates that before long Judy Miller and the New York Times will divorce. I agree with that. I think it is very likely she has written her last article for the Times, although the editors may allow her a first person thing about her ordeal. He also points to a passage that struck me, too. It’s from Sydney Schanberg’s piece in the Village Voice calling on Miller to “come clean.”
Even her supporters are asking for answers. On September 30, one of her most stalwart admirers, Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, was asked during an online chat hosted by The Washington Post: “So what are the three biggest mysteries/questions that YOU would like Judy Miller to explain?” At the top of her list, Dalglish put this question: “Was Scooter Libby your source for information about Valerie Plame, or were you HIS source?”
Some doodler at a conference drew this picture of me. Caught a break: I’m wearing pants.
Here’s how “emptywheel” at The Next Hurrah gets started in an Oct. 9 post, Jill Abramson, What Was Judy Working on in July 2003?
Those who have been following me following Judy Miller for a while will know that I am obsessed with learning about Judy’s status in July (and June, as it turns out) when the whole Plame thing was developing.
Study note to edu-bloggers, especially Will Richardson (and users at weblogg-ed) and Jenny D and her crowd. Look into emptywheel’s phrase, “obsessed with learning about…” and the proof of that: the post itself. I think it tells us something about blogging “into” public argument and The News. Blogging as stylized learning, done out of a personal obsession with public fact. In this case: Judy’s status in July (and June…) Read how “the NYT has backed themselves into a corner…” Fascinating, and funny. Highly recommended.
Earlier at PressThink (on the leak investigation and the press):
- Time for Robert Novak to Feel Some Chill (July 7): “As the judge said Judy Miller can escape her jail cell by finally choosing to talk, so could Novak restore his column and TV appearances by finally talking about his part in the story. Novak is said to have lots of friends in the press. Friends would let him know the time is here.”
- Rollback (July 16): “This White House doesn’t settle for managing the news—what used to be called ‘feeding the beast’—because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country.”
- Why Robert Novak Stormed Off the Set. (Aug. 5): “Old Novak rules: sorry fellas, can’t talk. New rules: Novak chooses. This, I believe, is the cause of what happened on air. The legitimacy of Novak’s exemption from questioning had collapsed earlier in the week. Ed Henry was ready with that news. Novak was not ready to receive it.”
- Judith Miller and Her Times (Oct. 2): “Notice how it affects what the New York Times, a great institution, can tell the public, and yet Judy’s decision was hers: personal when she made it (her conditions weren’t met), personal when she changed it (her conditions were met.) That’s what I mean by Miller’s Times.”
- News Comes in Code: Judy Miller’s Return to the Times (Oct. 4): “Just one man’s opinion, but now is a good time to say it: The New York Times is not any longer—in my mind—the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was. Some time in the last year or so I moved the Washington Post into that position…”
- The Times at Bay: Armchair Critic Speculates (Oct. 12): “Everything has to wait until the moment when Judy ‘can be expected to tell what happened,’ as Landman so carefully put it. When it comes and she still refuses the hierarchy will turn a whiter shade of pale. Key people will then know their investment in Miller went terribly wrong.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at October 10, 2005 9:19 PM
I'll offer some SPECULATION about the reason for the Times silence (although it does not explain the columnists).
Go back to the court process - Judy Miller, Matt Cooper and TIME Inc. were subpoenaed separately; the theory was that TIME had electronic possession of some relevant e-mails.
However, the NY Times Co. was not a fourth respondent - they had persuaded Fitzgerald, or a judge, that they had nothing to subpoena, and that all relevant notes were Judy's responsibility.
Fine. But now, immediately after she testifies, new notes emerge in the Washington Bureau.
Did she find them herself, or had they been in the Times possession? And if so, does that mean the Times had misled the court when it wiggled out of the subpoena? Had the Times been keeping this a dirty little secret until her release, figuring they would set it right then?
I'm just guessing, of course - quite possibly Judy was still legal custodian of the notes even though they may have been physically in the Times Washington Bureau (per Isikoff).
However - if the Times has been sitting on this to avoid a subpoena (and other penalties?), there silence becomes a bit more understandable - maybe almost any internal reporting they would have done would have led straight to that point.
I am very weak on the legal status of Judy Miller's notes, although I have seen stuff written about it (private contractor versus employee, IIRC). The WSJ had this:
Time Inc. technically owned an electronic file that contained Mr. Cooper's notes, he says. As a result, the parent company could potentially be held in contempt of court and forced to pay large fines if its magazine and reporter didn't cooperate.
Ms. Miller, by contrast, apparently kept personal possession of her notes, and the Times's view is that it never had them.
Jay: You da man! And your tracking of this story is virtuosic and indispensable. May I note here that I anticipated a lot of this in a post on the defenestration of Howell Raines, two years ago and then some:
The Howell Raines downfall turns on a mix-up (inside and out) of molehill and mountain.
The media crisis in the country (and in its greatest print-era newspaper) has next-to-nothing to do with the sins of a pathetic little conman, Jayson Blair.
It doesn't have much to do, either, with Raines' management style. He's a month in the country compared to that volcanic player of favorites, Abe Rosenthal.
The crisis has everything to do with the evidence that more than half of the citizenry came to believe that Saddam Hussein was the author of the World Trade Center attack.
If half of New York believed that that Martha Stewart was the Mets' shortstop, The Times would not only set us straight, it would inquire how the misconception arose--even ask if their pages had contributed to it.
The crisis in the democratic information business is all about the big media (including the New York Times) staying "on message" with the reckless Bush administration in the long duplicitous runup to war with Iraq. "Inevitable" was the Times' favorite word about the war, trivializing the largely unreported questions and reservations about the Bush war planning.
The nastier inside crisis at the Times is the unprecedented and truly lethal civil war among the Op-Ed stars: Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman against Tom Friedman and William Safire. Friedman says that bait-and-switch war propaganda from the White House is, in effect, good enough for government work. Paul Krugman says it is "arguably the worst scandal in American political history — worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra." Dowd names Safire among the neo-con war groupies. Safire says there was no intelligence failure on the missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. These are not reasoned differences; this is editorial and moral chaos.
The style-book crisis at the Times is that the paper hasn't the vocabulary to tell the people what Colin Powell told his staff ("This is bullshit!") about the cooked-up panic alarms he was supposed to sell at the United Nations.
The real nightmare for the Times is the plain fact that one-way print-based corporate journalism cannot prevail in a rough-and-ready information game against the interactive, almost-free, global, democratic and instant Internet. For hungry hounds of news and for "the rising generation," in the late Times saint James Reston's phrase, the Times will never again be "the paper of record," as we used to call it, or the first draft of history.
Around the Iraq war and the many dismayed post-mortems--in the dazed, double-speaking minds of Paul Wolfowitz & Co and in the stinking slums of Baghdad today--the New York Times has to confront its rather amazing timidity, shallowness of reporting, thinness of political judgment as the war machinery geared up.
If Howell Raines is to be held responsible for serious lapses, let it be for the Times' pusillanamity around the unnecessary war that the Bush team slipped past the Congress and the sleeping watchmen in the serious press.
Abe Rosenthal defined his time at the Times helm by publishing the Pentagon Papers, the Kennedy-Johnson secret history of the Vietnam War. Max Frankel's Times chose deliberately to bury the Genifer Flowers story about Bill Clinton, the candidate. But Joe Lelyveld (and Howell Raines, then on the editorial page) went full bore at same story when Clinton and Monica Lewinsky reenacted it at the White House.
The crucible of leadership at the Times, it seems, requires that readiness "without fear or favor" to tell the folks that their government is lying to them--again. Howell Raines will be remembered for missing his opportunity to ferret out more of what we should have known and argued about Bush's war in Iraq.
Family note: One of my daughters read the Times' first self-exposing story on Jayson Blair and said: "Amazing! That's the guy who sub-let my apartment when he was interning at the (Boston) Globe He left me a mess, and an $800 phone bill." Blair ducked her, of course, but she hounded his parents. "This isn't fair," she had told them. "I'm a student, too, trying to making it on my own as much as he is." They paid her in full, and that was the end of it. It wasn't about affirmative action, or public moral posturing. It was petty fraud, addressed head on. Our kid puts the Times to shame.
# Posted by Christopher Lydon on 6/6/03; 3:32:53 PM -
Re Bill Keller quote (10/7) in your, The Shimmer (10/10), et. seq.--
"Among them is the biggest new fact: The Times reported Oct. 7 that Judy Miller may have to talk to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald again. Not good for transparency. Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said Ms. Miller had been cautioned by her lawyers not to discuss the substance of her grand jury testimony until Mr. Fitzgerald finished questioning her.
[Here's the quote.]
" 'We have launched a vigorous reporting effort that I hope will answer outstanding questions about Judy’s part in this drama,' Mr. Keller said. 'This development may slow things down a little, but we owe our readers as full a story as we can tell, as soon as we can tell it.' ”
I'm wondering whether anyone else was struck by Keller's phrasing and what they made of it.
"...but we owe our readers as full a story as we can tell, as soon as we can tell it."
Why "as full a story as," and not simply "our full reporting of this story?" Why "as we can tell" which implies an exception for "what we can't report?" Although the last "as" may be just another reference to Miller's still pending testimony, Keller could have said "after..." or, otherwise, when.
His sculpted language following "as" projects a curious, bifurcated image, including some deep shadows cast by the very daylight he promises.
[Keller and others speaking for the NYT repeated the identical statement several times during the week as events continued to unfold.]
So, what do you make of this, if anything?
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...