This is perhaps getting too deep in the minutiae of the Plame Affair. But I've been thinking a lot about the passage on Judy Miller in Doug Jehl's recent article.
Ms. Miller never wrote a story about the matter. She has refused to testify in response to a court order directing her to testify in response to a subpoena from Mr. Fitzgerald seeking her testimony about a conversation with a specified government official between June 6, 2003, and June 13, 2003. [these dates have been corrected to July]
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.
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.
A number of people had just assumed this was NYT exonerating Judy Miller; I had ignored it as boilerplate Judy language. But Auriga and Jeff pointed out that there is more in this passage than the typical Judy boilerplate.
They were right. I'm not sure exactly what Jehl was trying to say with that passage. But I'm certain he wasn't trying to exonerate Judy.
You see, Jehl and Judy have a bit of history. Not only has Jehl done a lot of work to discredit some of Judy's stories. Perhaps more importantly, he has been burned by Judy.
We've all heard the story, by now, of how Judy, the woman rotting in jail to protect a source, has burned one in the past. As the E&P described the incident in 2003:
In April, Miller interviewed an expert from the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington on background, then made up a quote and attributed it to the person, who she then named.
It infuriated colleagues and a senior editor, but it only merited a small editors' note on April 9: "An article on Saturday about the search by United States forces for chemical, biological and radiation weapons in Iraq included a comment attributed to Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at the [Stimson] Center, a research institute in Washington. Ms. Smithson was depicted as suggesting that Bush administration officials might be less certain of finding such weapons now than before the war. She was quoted as saying that 'they may be trying to dampen expectations because they are worried they won't find anything significant.' In fact the comments were paraphrases of a remark Ms. Smithson made in an e-mail exchange for the Times's background information, on the condition that she would not be quoted by name. Attempts to reach her before publication were unsuccessful. Thus the comments should not have been treated as quotations or attributed to her."
This is actually what Miller did: the interview was conducted by e-mail, Miller added that "if I don't hear back from you I'll assume it's OK to use." Not hearing back, she used it. But the scientist didn't check her e-mail further that day.
What the E&P doesn't say though (but this great profile in New York metro.com does) is that Judy co-bylined that piece. With Doug Jehl. But when the correction appeared, it didn't mention which of the journalists was responsible for mischaracterizing a quote and naming a background source.
Editors' Note: April 9, 2003, Wednesday An article on Saturday about the search by United States forces for chemical, biological and radiation weapons in Iraq included a comment attributed to Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a research institute in Washington. Ms. Smithson was depicted as suggesting that Bush administration officials might be less certain of finding such weapons now than before the war. She was quoted as saying that ''they may be trying to dampen expectations because they are worried they won't find anything significant.''
In fact the comments were paraphrases of a remark Ms. Smithson made in an e-mail exchange for The Times's background information, on the condition that she would not be quoted by name. Attempts to reach her before publication were unsuccessful. Thus the comments should not have been treated as quotations or attributed to her.
It's worth looking a little more closely at the article because it reveals just how badly Judy burned Amy Smithson--and in the process, made Jehl look by association.
The article explains that US forces have searched only a few of the suspected weapons sites in Iraq. It describes how the search for weapons has receded in official proclamations, from being the primary focus, to being secondary or tertiary. Much of this reporting is explicitly from DC and--I presume--reflects the work of Jehl's skepticism rather than Judy's credulity. There are just a few bits that clearly come from Judy's embedded position in Iraq. And these read like excuses or incitements to increase the urgency of the search.
Since the war began, the unit charged with leading the hunt for Iraqi unconventional arms, the 75th Exploitation Task Force, has been spending much of its time training at a military camp in the north of this country and has conducted few forays into Iraq, much to members' frustration.
So it's this delightfully conflicted document, on the one hand skepticism and the other cheer-leading. But into the middle of that, Judy dumps a quote that (mis)identifies someone explicitly questioning the Administration's search. The Smithson "quote" takes on the role of personifying the increasing doubts of Administration claims. Let's just say Amy Smithson probably lost her invite to Donald Rumsfeld's holiday parties after that. And again, if you just read this casually, it would seem the burn came from Jehl in DC rather than Miller in Iraq.
Jehl and Judy only co-bylined one more article that I can find (the metro article notes that some writers finally refused to be co-bylined with Judy), written in September 2003, this announcing that David Kay's interim report on the weapons hunt would report it had found nothing. In this article, it appears Jehl sneaks some direct criticism of Judy's work into the piece.
The details of Mr. Kay's findings have been closely held within the administration as part of a strategy that officials said was intended both to prevent unauthorized leaks and to minimize internal disputes about any emerging findings. Issues related to the Iraqi weapons program have been contentious inside the administration as well as outside, with the State Department's intelligence branch and some officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency taking issue with a report made public in May by the C.I.A. that said mysterious trailers discovered in Iraq were used to manufacture biological weapons.
Well, gosh, I remember when that report was made public. Judy made it public, didn't she? And after she did, members of the Administration started proclaiming the trailers as proof of WMDs. The article continues,
In early June, American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence disputed claims that the trailers were used for making deadly germs. They said in interviews with The New York Times that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.
And that mea culpa, the interviews with analysts admitting they'd rushed to judge the trailers? Well, gosh, that's a Judy article too! One of the few she published while this whole Plame thing began to bubble over. Although I should be clear. This article is also co-bylined, this time with William Broad. And it seems like Broad has found some senior analysts who disagree with the tripe Judy sent back from the front. (Note, it's not mentioned in the Jehl-Miller September story, but Jehl wrote the NYT article in August 2003 that definitively declared the trailers did un related to biological warfare, as well as one in June reporting that INR disputed the claims about the trailers.) From the Miller-Broad article.
In all, at least three teams of Western experts have now examined the trailers and evidence from them. While the first two groups to see the trailers were largely convinced that the vehicles were intended for the purpose of making germ agents, the third group of more senior analysts divided sharply over the function of the trailers, with several members expressing strong skepticism, some of the dissenters said.
In effect, early conclusions by agents on the ground that the trailers were indeed mobile units to produce germs for weapons have since been challenged.
Which is all a very elaborate way of saying that, when Jehl has his chance to publicly mock Judy's work, he takes it. And he does it again a few days after the co-bylined piece in September. Jehl writes an article slamming the information provided by Iraqi defectors, one of the only admissions on the part of the NYT that their reporting was questionable.
An internal assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that most of the information provided by Iraqi defectors who were made available by the Iraqi National Congress was of little or no value, according to federal officials briefed on the arrangement.
In addition, several Iraqi defectors introduced to American intelligence agents by the exile organization and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program, the officials said.
This ought to be enough to impugn Judy's work. But Jehl goes further to point out that the NYT has been taken in by these defectors--although he doesn't name names.
The Iraqi National Congress had made some of these defectors available to several news organizations, including The New York Times, which reported their allegations about prisoners and the country's weapons program.
Interestingly, the E&P article notes that there was some discussion among NYT staffers about Judy's status around the time these articles appeared in September 2003.
Following the appearance of a Sept. 25 jointly-authored story on the yet-to-be-released Iraqi Survey Group's WMD report, with Jehl listed before Miller, a Times correspondent serving abroad sent this message to a colleague: "I hear that our friend has clipped wings these days."
I have no idea whether this was Jehl or not, but it seems clear there was an awareness amng NYT staffers that Judy no longer had unfettered reign.
So Jehl, in previous reporting, has tried to point out Judy's incompetence to readers. He did this on at least one more occasion, in what would have been Spring of 2004 (this from the metro article).
At a lunch with the paper's Washington bureau this spring, reporter Douglas Jehl questioned [Keller] on the paper's WMD coverage, asking if the Times owed its readers a thorough reconsideration of its use of Chalabi. Keller replied that he didn't want to single out any specific reporters for abuse--the same line the paper took in the editor's note. He believed it was enough to correct the coverage itself.
Jehl, I'm guessing, still believes the NYT owes it readers some kind of apology for enabling Judy to peddle her tripe.
Fine, so I've spent pages and pages establishing that Jehl probably doesn't sympathize with Miller, so his obscure passage cited above is probably an attempt to reveal something about her--or his editors'--culpability. But that doesn't help explain what he was trying to say. Like I said, I'm still not sure. But the metro article does elaborate on some of the same topics Jehl addressed the other day. Jehl mentions, for example, that Judy was primarily working in the Washington bureau. The metro article describes Miller's behavior in DC as a big part of her problem
The epicenter of Miller-bashing is the Washington bureau. The phenomenon has a long history. During her tumultuous time as deputy bureau chief in the late eighties, she proposed reassigning many reporters out, to other bureaus and lesser posts. Adam Clymer, who served as the paper's political editor, recalls, "She ran the bureau day to day, and that regime was probably the unhappiest in my experience."
The paper's current  policy is that any time Miller visits Washington, her editor Matthew Purdy must provide bureau chief Philip Taubman and his deputies with advance notice and explain her purpose for visiting. In January, the bureau officially deprived Miller of her desk. Although this was ostensibly done to make space, according to denizens of the bureau it had an intentional symbolic value, too. "It gave the bureau a way to move her out without saying it was moving her out," says a reporter.
Further, Jehl names Jill Abramson as Judy's editor at the time. Abramson is one of the few people interviewed in the metro article who has anything positive to say.
And also, no one has ever questioned her work ethic--she is indefatigable. "Judy Miller is a tireless and absolutely relentless reporter," managing editor Jill Abramson told me. "In the Washington bureau, she was often the last reporter still working, sometimes making phone calls until the wee morning hours."
What Jehl doesn't say, but the metro article does, is that Judy had a very loose reporting structure leading up to and during the war, which allowed her to get things into print that few others could.
During the run-up to the war, investigations editor Doug Frantz and foreign editor Roger Cohen went to managing editor Gerald Boyd on several occasions with concerns about Miller's overreliance on Chalabi and his Pentagon champions, especially Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. For instance, Frantz rejected a proposal for a story in which Pentagon officials claimed to have identified between 400 and 1,000 WMD sites, without providing much backup evidence to justify their claims. "At the time, people knew her reporting was suspect and they said so," one Timesman told me. But Raines and Boyd continually reaffirmed management's faith in her by putting her stories on page 1. (Both Boyd and Raines declined to speak for this story.)
According to one of her editors, she worked stories for investigative one day, foreign the next, and the Washington bureau the day after. It was never clear who controlled or edited her. When one desk stymied her, she'd simply hustle over to another and pitch her story there. It was an editorial vacuum worsened by the absence of a top editor on the investigative unit, her nominal home. Between Doug Frantz's departure for the Los Angeles Times in March 2003 and Matthew Purdy's arrival in January 2004, Miller had almost no high-level supervision from editors with investigative experience.
So Judy was effectively working without editorial oversight throughout this period. Why, then, does Jehl name Abramson? And Abramson (now the managing editor of the NYT) says Judy was working on her eventual WMD story at this period. All through this period?
FOREIGN DESK | June 7, 2003, Saturday $
Some Analysts Of Iraq Trailers Reject Germ Use
By JUDITH MILLER and WILLIAM J. BROAD (NYT) 1498 words
NATIONAL DESK | July 2, 2003, Wednesday $
AFTER THE WAR: BIOLOGICAL WARFARE; Subject of Anthrax Inquiry Tied to Anti-Germ Training
This article was reported and written by William J. Broad, David Johnston and Judith Miller. (NYT) 1830 words
FOREIGN DESK | July 19, 2003, Saturday $
AFTER THE WAR: INTELLIGENCE; British Arms Expert at Center of Dispute on Iraq Data Is Found Dead, His Wife Says
By WARREN HOGE with JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 1520 words
FOREIGN DESK | July 20, 2003, Sunday $
AFTER THE WAR: UNCONVENTIONAL ARMS; A Chronicle of Confusion in the U.S. Hunt for Hussein's Chemical and Germ Weapons
By JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 1961 words
FOREIGN DESK | July 21, 2003, Monday $
AFTER THE WAR: INTELLIGENCE; Scientist Was the 'Bane of Proliferators'
By JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 848 words
FOREIGN DESK | July 23, 2003, Wednesday $
AFTER THE WAR: THE QUARRY; For Brutality, Hussein's Sons Exceeded Even Their Father
By JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 931 words
NATIONAL DESK | July 23, 2003, Wednesday $
AFTER THE WAR: INTELLIGENCE; National Security Aide Says He's to Blame for Speech Error
By DAVID E. SANGER with JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 763 words
Judy published nothing between June 7 and July 2 (and the July 2 article looks like one she may have "big-footed" her byline onto, as the metro article describes her as doing frequently). Then Judy publishes nothing again until David Kelly's death gives her a presumably unexpected opportunity to write some easy profiles of her close friend Kelly. All this time, then, she was working on one 2000-word article?
One more thing about Jehl's comments. NYT was subpoenaed, along with Judy, in the Plame case. I'm still clarifying how they (unlike Time) avoided a contempt charge. But I'm fairly certain Fitzgerald was asking--as he did with Judy--for information from the week of July 6. Jehl asks a very different question.
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. [emphasis mine]
Unlike Fitzgerald, Jehl is asking a question without a date attached. And he's asking more general questions about Judy's role. Jehl has asked Keller questions about Judy's performance in the past, questions that weren't answered. Perhaps this time, Jehl is revealing more by revealing Keller's silence.
One last speculation. I remarked the other day that Jehl used the wrong month for Judy's subpoena, June instead of July. That date was corrected last Saturday. The correction also mentioned two more things. A misattribution of Pincus' impression of his source's objective. And the date--the article was datelined July 26 and published July 28; but it was actually written on July 27. Those two date errors are a whole lot of confusion for one article. I wonder if Jehl has followed Judy's lead in avoiding her editors?