10/14/2005

Public Editor's Web Journal (Forum/Message Board) - The New York Times

Now Is the Time

The lifting of the contempt order against Judith Miller of The New York Times in connection with the Valerie Wilson leak investigation leaves no reason for the paper to avoid providing a full explanation of the situation. Now.

As public editor, I have been asking some basic questions of the key players at The Times since July 12. But they declined to fully respond to my fundamental questions because, they said, of the legal entanglements of Ms. Miller and the paper. With Ms. Miller in jail and the legal situation unclear, I felt it would be unfair to publicly castigate them for their caution.

At the same time, I decided my lack of information made it impossible to fairly evaluate for readers Ms. Miller’s refusal to identify confidential sources and how The Times was handling the matter. The absence of complete answers to my fundamental questions also prevented me from publicly rising to Ms. Miller’s defense, despite the initial burst of First Amendment fervor among some journalists supporting her.

But legal concerns should no longer rule the roost.

Now I look forward to assessing the full explanation that Bill Keller, the executive editor, has promised the paper will deliver to readers under the supervision of Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor. While a multitude of issues need to be addressed, I certainly will expect The Times’s explanation to address these fundamental questions that I first posed to the key players at the paper in July:

--Was Ms. Miller’s contact with the source she is protecting initiated and conducted in genuine pursuit of a news article for Times readers?

--Why didn’t she write an article?

--What kinds of notes are there and who has them?

--Why wasn’t she exploring a voluntary waiver from the source?

An important and obvious issue that has arisen in recent days, of course, is Ms. Miller’s seemingly belated discovery of notes from a June 2003 conversation that she had with I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Several hours after she testified before the grand jury yesterday about the notes, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., lifted the contempt finding that had caused her to spend 85 days in jail.

I write this expecting The Times will publish its explanation as soon as possible. Unfortunately, even if it were published Friday or Saturday, deadlines wouldn’t allow me to assess The Times’s explanation in the public editor’s column space this Sunday. I must submit my column by Friday morning; the space Sunday will be devoted to reader letters about my two previous columns, as regularly scheduled...

Public Editor's Web Journal (Forum/Message Board) - The New York Times

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