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November 9, 2005
The End Of A Strange Interlude

One of the strangest chapters in the modern mainstream media came to a close today with the resignation or termination of Judith Miller from the New York Times. No one will be sure which actually happened, because in an extension of the he said/she said dynamic that has highlighted their relationship, neither Miller nor NYT executive editor Bill Keller can agree on reality. Here's the Paper of Record on the end of the relationship:

The New York Times and Judith Miller, a veteran reporter for the paper, reached an agreement yesterday that ended her 28-year career at the newspaper and capped more than two weeks of negotiations.

Ms. Miller went to jail this summer rather than reveal a confidential source in the C.I.A. leak case. But her release from jail 85 days later, after she agreed to testify before a grand jury, and persistent questions about her actions roiled long-simmering concerns about her in the newsroom and led to her departure.

Bill Keller, the executive editor, announced the move to the staff in a memorandum yesterday, saying, "In her 28 years at The Times, Judy participated in some great prize-winning journalism."

In a statement, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The Times, said: "We are grateful to Judy for her significant personal sacrifice to defend an important journalistic principle," adding, "I respect her decision to retire from The Times and wish her well."

From the way Keller put it and the language in the lead paragraph, it sounds much more like the Times insisted on the departure and had to negotiate a parachute with Miller to get that "retirement" Pinch mentions in his statement. Reading further into the story, the Times makes this more clear in its description of the negotiations:

Kenneth A. Richieri, The Times lawyer who negotiated the severance agreement for the paper, said one thing was clear to both sides from the start of those talks. "What made the deal possible was that shared understanding that she couldn't continue to report on national security matters for The New York Times," he said. "She'd become so much a part of the story."

Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the paper, said it had been made clear to Ms. Miller that she would not be able to continue as a reporter of any kind, not just one covering national security.

In other words, unless Miller wanted to start pushing a broom around the newsroom at night, the Times had no job for her to perform. Some may call that "retirement," and as a euphemism, it will do. However, newspapers should concern themselves with reporting truth and not hiding behind euphemisms. One would hardly expect the Times to have accepted such PC drivel from a government official describing the departure of a close advisor under fire as a "retirement" -- so why does Pinch rely on such a laughable assertion, one which his own paper clearly reveals as a lie?

Miller makes it sound as though her departure was a resignation and the termination happened at her own instigation:

Partly because of such objections from some colleagues, I have decided, after 28 years and with mixed feelings, to leave The Times. I am honored to have been part of this extraordinary newspaper and proud of my accomplishments here a Pulitzer, a DuPont, an Emmy and other awards but sad to leave my professional home.

But mainly I have chosen to resign because over the last few months, I have become the news, something a New York Times reporter never wants to be.

According to the Times, she didn't "choose" to leave at all, nor does she agree with Pinch's characterization of the process as a "retirement". It doesn't take two weeks to negotiate a resignation, either. Miller got fired, and the two parties spent the last two weeks determining how much Miller wanted for a quiet end to her employment. It speaks volumes that neither side can bring themselves to report honestly about the end of her employment.

As both sides report, however, this ends an equally strange period during her incarceration and especially afterwards, when she agreed to testify to the grand jury. While she sat in prison, she hardly garnered the respect of her peers, who believed she got too cozy with her government sources. After her release, Keller and Sulzberger initially hailed her as a heroine for the free press. They quickly changed their tune, later publicly calling her credibility into question and suggesting that her reporting could not be trusted.

And yet -- the Times made no move to get rid of her for weeks. They kept her on staff all through the rest of the grand jury process, apparently only starting to negotiate her exit just before Fitzgerald's mandate ran out. The Times, which had defended the credibility of Jayson Blair right up until they fired him, put themselves in the unusual position of continuing to employ a reporter that they themselves now said was not to be believed. In e-mails that eventually made their way out (and can be read on Miller's website), Keller and Byron Calame accused her of all sorts of vague conflicts of interest.

If all that were true, why didn't the Times just fire her?

Nothing has ever made much sense when it comes to Judith Miller and the NY Times. Her departure distinguishes all of the major players in much the same manner.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 9, 2005 9:53 PM

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» Did Miller Retire or Did The Times Retire Her? from Tapscott's Copy Desk
Whatever one's view of Miller, this episode adds to the perception that her now former bosses conducted themselves in less than honorable ways. Morrissey explains why. [Read More]

Tracked on November 10, 2005 6:31 AM

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