Judith Miller has a new alibi—the blogs done her in!
Writer Marie Brenner presents Miller’s latest defense in an April Vanity Fair feature story about the fallout from the Valerie Plame investigation. Brenner, acknowledging she’s a friend of the former New York Times reporter, writes that while still in Iraq in May 2003, Miller became a “major target in the intense public anger directed at Bush’s war, owing to her reports that Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction.”
The ones tossing the fire were those dastardly—but unnamed—bloggers, according to Miller. Upon returning to New York later in May, Miller met with the Times’ two top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, who were then battling a staff revolt triggered by the Jayson Blair scandal. They acknowledged the “flak” her stories had gotten and told her foreign editor Roger Cohen did not want her to go back to Iraq. Cohen opposed her return because, as he tells Brenner, “There were concerns about her sources and her sourcing.” Still, Miller managed a quick trip to Iraq.
In June, back in New York, “Miller realized that she was losing her authority” inside the Times. “None of my colleagues ever spoke to me about my reporting. But they would say, ‘We don’t want to work with her.’ “
In August, Bill Keller replaced Raines as executive editor, and according to Miller, he told her, “You are radioactive. … You can see it in the blogs.”
“I’m pretty sure I never said any such thing,” Keller tells Brenner. (This isn’t the only recent “he said, she said” story in which Miller comes out the loser. See this sidebar.)
Miller describes to Vanity Fair the process by which the Pajama People destroyed her:
The bloggers were without editing, without a way for people to understand what was good, what was well reported—to distinguish between the straight and the slanderous. Things would get instantly picked up, magnified, and volumized.
(Sounds more like what my hairdresser does with my thinning locks. But never mind.)
In Miller’s mind, the bloggers not only poisoned her relationship with the Times brass but also with her colleagues, who, she says, “believed what they read on the blogs.”
Believed what they read on the blogs!? Say what you will about New York Times reporters and editors, but nobody with half a mind would ever call them uncritical guzzlers of blog bilge. I don’t know what’s more astonishing—that Miller said this with a straight face or that Brenner ran it without comment.
Exactly who were all these unnamed bloggers ripping Miller to pieces? Allow me the hunch that when she refers to “blogs” she’s referring to me, if only because I wrote volumes about her and because the blog-mass didn’t stomp her in the spring and summer of 2003. Now, I can’t prove that well-read blogs didn’t write about her because no search engine I’m familiar with indexes with any efficiency the blogs from that period. But Web searches I conducted and additional reporting failed to turn up much in the way of a “Get Judy” movement among prominent or even marginal bloggers back then. Brief Miller mentions can be found in Joshua Marshall’s Talking Points Memo and Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler, both of which are well-known. Michael Massing’s January 2004 New York Review of Books piece, which ultimately buried Miller, generously credits others who criticized Miller’s coverage of WMDs. He cites no bloggers. (For an index of my Miller columns, see the “Related in Slate” box at the bottom of this page.)
If nasty bloggers played such a crucial role in her downfall, why is Miller only now bringing them up? She never mentioned them in her 1,781-word interview with Lou Dobbs in October 2005, nor in her 6,517-word interview with Larry King in November 2005. Seth Mnookin’s January 2006 Vanity Fair feature about her demise missed the blogger angle, as did Franklin Foer’s June 2004 profile in New York.
A lame excuse? A case of recovered memory? Or something worse?
Maybe this explains the New York Times’ recent emphasis on blogs. If they destroyed Miller, maybe they can save the newspaper! Send your theories via e-mail to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)