When it wants to be, the New York Times can be all over a story, covering it from scores of angles, lavishing enormous amounts of newsspace and journalistic firepower. Which is why the Times’ coverage of the CIA leak investigation is so very odd. It hasn’t run a story on the case since October 4th (I believe). There are two big stories out right now about the case and the Times is silent. The competition is eating its lunch. This is normally not something the Times takes lying down.
Of course, there’s a built-in conflict of interest here. The Times’ Judith Miller seems in the middle of most of the current newsmaking regarding the investigation. This makes it very hard for a newspaper because it is in effect covering itself as the news–an awkward thing to do. But still…I just don’t get what’s going on here.
Michael Isikoff reports in this week’s Newsweek that Karl Rove may’ve made a major legal blunder by not telling the FBI or grand jury about his July 11th conversation with Matthew Cooper. Shortly after his testimony, the White House “found” an e mail Rove had written the same day to Stephen Hadley mentioning the meeting. But by then it was too late. Rove had either lied to the FBI and grand jury or else made a major and glaring omission. Either way, it means he’s in deep doo-doo.
In a few short sentences at the end of this story, Isikoff notes a new twist in the Miller-Libby angle of the story:
Fitzgerald has also summoned…Judith Miller back for questioning this week: a notebook was discovered in the paper’s Washington bureau, reflecting a late June 2003 conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, about Wilson and his trip to Africa, says one of the lawyers. The notebook may also be significant because Wilson’s identity was not yet public. A lawyer for the Times declined to comment.
Not only the Times’ lawyer declined to comment. The entire paper is shut down on the subject as well. They better get their act together because the longer they dither in deciding how to cover this the shabbier they’re going to look. It reminds me a bit of the Supreme Court ruling on the 2004 election. Despite the legal trappings, you could see right through it as the set-up job it was. The Times current state of coverage makes the newspaper look bad, very bad; and makes it look like it has something to hide.
That’s where Greg Mitchell’s terrific story in Editor & Publisher comes in. He raises a series of probing and troubling questions about Miller’s and the Times’ behavior:
What’s with Miller, after going to jail for 85 days…now turning over her notes to the prosecutor, apparently with her newspaper’s blessing?
The notes in question, we now know, cover a Miller discussion with I. Lewis Libby on June 23, 2003, two weeks before Joseph Wilson’s WMD Op-Ed that was thought to have set the Bush backlash in motion. These notes, the Times has disclosed, do mention Joseph Wilson. ..Miller’s testimony to the grand jury nine days ago only covered her interviews with Libby on July 8 and July 12 of that year…
–Did Libby lie to the grand jury about not talking to Miller about Wilson earlier than July 8? Did Miller lie about that? If so, why?
–How did Fitzgerald find out about these notes? Did he know about the June conversation for quite some time but just recently found out about the notes? Or did Miller come forward herself? If she did, was it after someone tipped off Fitzgerald about the June interview?
–Does the existence of a Miller chat with Libby two weeks before the Wilson Op-Ed, and well before Robert Novak outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, indicate that Libby, indeed, was the original source of the Plame leak? And/or does it suggest that Miller herself was a “carrier” of that leak to others in the media and the administration, well before Novak’s bombshell?
–If my research is correct, Fitzgerald’s original subpoena involving Miller only covered her discussions about Plame post-Wilson’s Op-Ed, which would explain why the June 23 interview may have slipped under the prosecutor’s radar. In any case, if this June 23 chat was secret until now (for whatever reason), it might explain why Libby felt confident enough to urge Miller to testify —- and she felt okay about it herself, after his waiver.
–In that vein, consider the now infamous “aspens are already turning” Sept. 15, 2005, letter (and related column) from “Scooter” to “Judy.” In that letter he practically instructed her on what to avoid and what to focus on in her testimony, specifically mentioning the “July” conversations. Was this his way of saying, “No one else knows about June 25, so it’s safe for you to avoid that”?
–We know the Libby/Miller talk on June 23, 2003, involved Joe Wilson. One presumes it had something to do with his trip to Africa. Or did it actually focus on the original Niger/uranium claims and forged documents? Or perhaps Miller had learned that Wilson had submitted his Op-Ed to her newspaper, or at least had been asked to write one?
–Was Miller allowed to “redact” the June 23 notes, as she did with the July notes?
–Is the Times’ reluctance to report fully on this case the result of being in a bit of hot water itself with the prosecutor? You’ll recall that the prosecutor long ago subpoenaed the paper for any notes related to the probe and the Times replied that it had nothing —- or anything it did have belonged to its reporters (company policy, it said). Fitzgerald never seemed to challenge that. If Miller turned over the notes herself, is the Times still claiming the rule still stands?
–And while we’re at it: Why have the Times’ seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal? Conflicted? Afraid to appear disloyal? Or discouraged from commenting? And where’s Public Editor Byron Calame?
All terrific questions. Boy, my newspaper of record and one I usually have a great deal of respect for–has some explaining to do, big time. To mangle the Coen brothers, Oh NYT, where art thou?