Paper Chastened

At the wounded Times, fallout from the Judy Miller saga

When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he says, he told Miller she was not to write about Iraq or weapons issues anymore. But, he says, "she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm." Someone allowed that drift.

All through this saga, Miller kept saying that her stands were only about principle—the principle of "the public's right to know." But the public is still in the dark.

Miller says she's going to take some time off now and maybe write a book about these last months. She'd better find a computer keyboard with a lie-detection button. She also says she would like to return to the Times and write again about national security. The honorable thing would be to resign.

The issue is no longer Miller. It is how the Times will repair and strengthen the checks and balances in its newsroom, so that a single reporter or clique cannot run amok—and take the paper along for the self-destructive ride.

During Miller's incarceration, the Times felt unable to do normal, aggressive reporting on the case out of concern that it might put Miller at risk for a longer contempt sentence or for more serious charges. One completed story on the case was actually killed by editors, and other story proposals were rejected. One of the final paragraphs of the Times story described it thus:

"The Times incurred millions of dollars in legal fees in Ms. Miller's case. It limited its own ability to cover aspects of one of the biggest scandals of the day. Even as the paper asked for the public's support, it was unable to answer [the public's] questions."

We need our great newspapers. The Times cannot afford to give up its journalistic mandate and silence itself again.

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