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The Times Judy-Culpa: Random Thoughts and Unanswered Questions


Sources close to New York Times public editor Barney Calame tell me that he is doing some "very vigorous reporting within the paper" for his upcoming column about the Judy Miller stories that appeared on Sunday (The New York Observer has been doing some great reporting on this too).

I have been reexamining the stories myself, like a Talmudic scholar inspecting each word of the ancient text looking for hidden meanings. I have yet to find the illumination I seek. But I have accumulated a growing collection of random thoughts and even more unanswered questions.

Here are a few of them, along with the excerpts that inspired them:

"Inside her cell in the Alexandria Detention Center this summer, Ms. Miller was able to peer through a narrow concrete slit to get an obstructed view of a maple tree and a concrete highway barrier. She was losing weight and struggling to sleep on two thin mats on a concrete slab."

Was she there long enough to find out whether maple trees also turn in clusters? And isn't "two thin mats on a concrete slab" Secret Service code for "Rove, Libby, and Cheney"?

"Every day, she checked outdated copies of The Times for a news article about her case. Most days she was disappointed."

Just like Times readers check the paper every day for articles that will finally tell the truth about Miller's and the Times' role in Plamegate. And every day -- including this past Sunday -- they are disappointed.

"Mr. Freeman, The Times's company lawyer, and Mr. Abrams worried that if Ms. Miller sought and received permission to testify and was released from jail, people would say that she and the newspaper had simply caved in."

They were right, of course. Though the cave in that really mattered was three years ago, when Miller and the Times became willing accomplices in the administration's plans to sell a war based on lies and deceptions.

"Ms. Miller said she was persuaded [after she spoke to Libby]: 'There was kind of like an expression of genuine concern and sorrow.'"

It's the same feeling I get whenever I see Judy Miller's byline.

"Mr. Keller said he learned about the 'Valerie Flame' notation only this month. Mr. Sulzberger was told about it by Times reporters on Thursday."

In addition, Sulzberger learned about Nick and Jessica's breakup only yesterday. According to Times' sources, the revelation has left him "angry and bewildered."

"'This car had [Miller's] hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,' Mr. Sulzberger said."

Reminder to Sulzberger: Friends don't let friends drive when they're drunk on power and access.

"Ms. Miller said the publisher's support was invaluable. 'He galvanized the editors, the senior editorial staff,' she said. 'He metaphorically and literally put his arm around me.'"

Can't you just imagine the follow-up line: "Then I showed him my scoops, and he showed me his nut graphs. It was magical."

"It was in these early days that Mr. Keller and Mr. Sulzberger learned Mr. Libby's identity. Neither man asked Ms. Miller detailed questions about her conversations with him."

Keller and Sulzberger had stopped asking Judy detailed questions a long time ago. Why should they start now? If Chalabi passes your smell test, why turn up your nose at Libby?

"'I didn't interrogate her about the details of the [Libby] interview,' Mr. Keller said. 'I didn't ask to see her notes. And I really didn't feel the need to do that.'"

Good thinking, Bill. Reading a Judy Miller piece is a lot like eating sausage. It goes down easier if you don't know how it was made.

"'W.M.D. - I got it totally wrong,' [Miller] said. 'The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them - we were all wrong.'"

Well, not quite "all." For starters, have a chat with recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei. You might learn something about the value of extending your source Rolodex beyond the confines of your neocon clubhouse.

"[Miller] said she hopes to cover 'the same thing I've always covered -- threats to our country.'"

In other words, a personal column.

"Ms. Miller said she was proud of her journalism career, including her work on Al Qaeda, biological warfare and Islamic militancy. But she acknowledged serious flaws in her articles on Iraqi weapons."

Hey, who hasn't had a screw up or two at work that helped lead a nation into war?

"Asked what she regretted about The Times's handling of the matter, Jill Abramson, a managing editor, said: 'The entire thing.'"

Join the club.