The ghost of Judy Miller

Arianna Huffington has been one of the most trenchant critics of Judith Miller throughtout the whole Plamegate affair, sometimes hysterically so, but her latest post is all sense. She suggests that a recent Times editorial on Scooter Libby which commented that the latest round of “this messy episode leaves more questions than answers” is unduly coy:

But what the Times doesn’t say is that one of the reasons there are more questions than answers is because the Times itself continues to operate behind a veil of secrecy, refusing to come clean about exactly what transpired behind the scenes at the paper while this White House disinformation campaign was going down.

This isn’t information that the paper of record needs to get from Bush or Cheney or Libby or Fitzgerald or the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s information the Times already has — questions the paper can already answer.

So instead of bemoaning the surfeit of Plamegate questions, how about the Times adding a few answers to the ledger?

Huffington is right. For all its mia culpa exposes of itself the Times still refuses to answer some basic questions, the most relevant are, as Huff points out:

Did Miller propose writing a story about any of what she heard that day at the St. Regis (or during her two subsequent July 12 phone conversations with Libby)? If not, why not? Why would she keep this information to herself?…

So if she did pitch the story, which Times editor did she pitch it to? What was their reaction? Why did no story result? Had the editors become so suspect of Miller’s sources and reporting that they refused to sign off on the story? Was she officially barred from writing about Iraq/WMD? Did her editors know that she thought she had special Pentagon clearance to receive classified information?

Or were Times editors dubious of Judy’s latest round of inside info because they knew that just a week earlier Colin Powell had told three other Times reporters the opposite of the bill of goods Libby was peddling to Miller?

Because of these questions the Times and journalism as an institution will be on trial again when Libby fronts the court on perjury charges. Journalists have rightly been up in arms over the confidentiality of sources issue in the Miller saga but their are actually much deeper issues.

Any protections that journalists claim, such as confidentiality of source relationships, derive only from journalism’s democratic role. When the confidentiality of source relationships seem to be inhibiting journalism’s obligation to question government rather than enhancing it, then other questions must be asked that go beyond initial “protection” framework.

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