NYT public editor: Not so public about Judith Miller

The paper of record keeps mum on its record in the Plame case.

Published October 11, 2005 12:50AM (EDT)

Shortly after New York Times reporter Judith Miller was released from jail on Sept. 29, Bill Keller, the paper's executive editor, assured his staff that the Times would soon tell its readers the full story of Miller's involvement in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. But in the week and a half that's passed since Miller left the big house, the paper has been mum on the subject -- cautious to a fault, even defensive, about revealing anything that its controversial reporter may have known about who leaked Plame's identity to the press.

In its Sunday edition, which many Times watchers expected would include a lengthy exposé on the matter, the paper of record didn't mention Miller once -- not on its news pages, not in the editorial section and not even in public editor Byron Calame's column (which, as we noted earlier, was a light piece on the favorable opinions Times staffers have of their well-heeled readership).

The silence, says one Times insider, speaking on background, has cast a sullen mood over the newsroom. Reporters are wary that the paper's reputation may suffer if it continues to remain tight-lipped about Miller. In an appearance on CNN on Sunday, Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich said that he is "frustrated" by the situation. "I think the Times, now that [Miller] has testified, has to be transparent about what happened, why her situation was different from Matt Cooper's, and indeed ultimately about her grand jury testimony, which, as I understand it legally, she's free to disclose, or will be presumably after Mr. Fitzgerald is finished with her."

On Monday, few at the paper were willing to talk about why the investigative piece into the Plame affair didn't appear. Both Keller and Arthur Sulzberger, the paper's publisher, declined to comment through spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. In an e-mail, Mathis wrote, "We are not going to discuss this in advance of the article. We plan to let it speak for itself."

Jonathan Landman, a deputy managing editor at the paper who is heading the investigative team working on the story, also declined to talk. But by way of explanation, Landman pointed to Times reporter David Johnston's story from Saturday. Keller told Johnston that the paper "launched a vigorous reporting effort that I hope will answer outstanding questions about Judy's part in this drama." But he added that new developments in the case -- specifically, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's request to talk to Miller about the case some more on Tuesday -- would slow down the inquiry.

Calame was also dismissive of the question. "I continue to watch developments in the Plame investigation with special interest," the public editor said in an e-mail. "If and when I have something to say, I will say it to the readers of the Times."

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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