What the Times didn't say

By Tim Grieve

Published February 7, 2005 4:54PM (EST)

Did you know that that the Bush administration has been "reaching out" again to Ahmad Chalabi, the discredited darling of Pentagon neo-cons? Neither did we. But the New York Times' Judith Miller says it's true. She just didn't say it in the New York Times.

Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball" last weekend, Miller said that the White House has offered Chalabi "expressions of cooperation," and she cited "one report" that has Chalabi becoming an interior minister in the new Iraqi government. But none of this has appeared in the New York Times, and Times public editor Daniel Okrent wants to know why. In a fairly well scathing column over the weekend, Okrent says that Miller's "Hardball" appearance leaves a reader no choice but to reach one of two conclusions: "Judging by their absence from the paper, one must conclude that either Miller's Chalabi revelations were wrong or unsubstantiated or that The Times is suppressing an important piece of news."

Which is it? No one at the Times will say -- not even when Okrent asked. For journalists who presumably expect public officials to answer serious charges level against them, Miller and Bill Keller, the Times' executive editor, seem perfectly willing to blow off the concerns Okrent has raised. Okrent says that Miller was "away from her office" last week and did not respond when he tried to reach her by email, office phone and cell phone. Keller told Okrent he didn't want to be drawn into a "public discussion of Judy" at a time when she risks jail time in the Valerie Plame case for refusing to reveal the identity of a confidential source.

In his column, Okrent says, a little cryptically, that he has "been able to determine with a very high degree of confidence that editors in the two departments most likely to have an interest in Miller's Chalabi assertions were unaware of them." But even if that's true, it hardly puts the matter to rest: How is it that Miller finds the news about Chalabi either important or credible enough to share with Chris Matthews, but not important or credible enough to pass along to her editors or -- God forbid -- her readers?

Short on answers, Okrent offers a solution instead: Newspaper reporters "should appear on television news programs rarely, on talk shows even less often, and on programs dominated by interrogators as insistent and adept as Matthews not at all." It's an interesting idea for future debate, but the Chalabi horse is already out of the barn. Is it too much to ask for Miller to explain herself before the Times closes the door?

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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