Mark Schmitt: Does the New York Times Know Why Judy Miller’s in Jail?


One of the great questions that has remained unanswered — and virtually unasked — in the Rove-Plame scandal is, just what is Judy Miller in jail for? Is it simply refusing to disclose a source to whom she promised confidentiality? Or is it something a little more elaborate, perhaps a more active participation in the effort to discredit Ambassador Wilson?
There’s certainly plenty of evidence that Miller has taken on roles not normally associated with reporting, in Iraq in particular. If she did play some other role in the transmission of classified information on Plame’s identity — for example, if she passed the information from a person authorized to hold classified information to another who was not — then even if a reporter’s shield existed, she would be no more entitled to it than would a lawyer who actively participates in a conspiracy be entitled to attorney-client privilege.
Arianna Huffington has broken the respectful silence by going all the way with this speculation:

It’s July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson’s now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has “manipulate[d]” and “twisted” intelligence “to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war — and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller’s credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he’s married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an “unnamed government official”). Maybe Miller tells Rove too — or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.
This is why Miller doesn’t want to reveal her “source” at the White House — because she was the source…in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn’t an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it. This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn’t to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson’s motives.

This really is speculation of the rawest sort. It’s a scenario that various people have been dancing around and hinting at for weeks, but now it’s out there. There are some other versions of this scenario, but they all involve Miller playing a key role in transmitting the information from one place in the executive branch (what Huffington refers to as “the intelligence community,” but which could mean various things, including Bolton’s office) to another, the political arm of the White House.
Add to Huffington’s speculation a much more informed story in the Wall Street Journal about the divergence of approaches between Time, Inc. and the Times. The heart of the story has to do with the realization by Time and Matthew Cooper that they did not necessarily have the same interests as Miller and the Times, and should not share a lawyer, Floyd Abrams. (Abrams takes a vicious swipe at Cooper, saying that “From Judy’s perspective, the first thing she wanted to know was what to do to protect her confidential sources, rather than what to do to stay out of jail.”) One point of difference is that Time concluded that it owned the electronic file of Cooper’s notes, or at least his e-mail to an editor, while The Times’s position, and Miller’s, has been that she alone holds the information.
But toward the end of the story, it suggests something else was going on: that at some point, when Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norm Pearlstine got involved, he realized that the case was a very big deal, one that could put the company at risk for contempt charges, and that he had to figure out an acceptable way out. His counterpart at the Times, however, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., seems not to have taken the matter so seriously, proposing at a meeting that they respond by distributing buttons that read, “Free Judy, Free Matt, Free Speech.” The Journal reports that “Pearlstine demurred.”
Given that the Times does not seem to want to know what’s in Miller’s notes, and given Sulzberger’s less serious approach to the charges, it’s time to add another question. Now it’s not just, “What is Judy Miller in jail for?” It’s also, “Does the New York Times know what Judy Miller’s in jail for?” And, “Does the New York Times care?”
Mark Schmitt