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The Times' Public Editor: Now Is the Time

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Shhh... Be very quiet for just a second and listen. Do you hear that muffled rumbling sound?

That's Byron "Barney" Calame, the distinguished and much-honored public editor for the New York Times, insisting that the paper publish "a full explanation of the [Judy Miller] situation. Now."

Now before you go rushing off to re-check your paper, wondering how you might have missed this, don't bother. It didn't appear in the paper. Instead, Calame posted it yesterday afternoon on his Times Web Journal -- a place, according to the Journal, where he comments "on matters that aren't appropriate for his column in the Sunday Op-Ed pages, or won't fit."

In his 4:45 PM posting -- entitled "Now Is the Time" -- Calame crosses his fingers and expresses his expectation that "the Times will publish its explanation as soon as possible." (And, indeed, my sources tell me it's slated for this Sunday.)

You have to feel for Barney. As the public editor it's his job to evaluate for Times readers the way the Times has been handling the Miller matter -- but he's found himself hamstrung by the cone of silence that has descended over West 43rd.

The regret clings to his posting like cheap cologne.

"As public editor, I have been asking some basic questions of the key players at The Times since July 12. But they declined to fully respond to my fundamental questions because, they said, of the legal entanglements of Ms. Miller and the paper. With Ms. Miller in jail and the legal situation unclear, I felt it would be unfair to publicly castigate them for their caution."

But now that the "legal entanglements" have been unknotted, is Calame ready to have a full go at the paper's Judy-culpa?

Well, sort of.

He offers the less-than-reassuring news that "a representative of Ms. Miller has indicated she will talk to me at some point." A representative? After Judge Hogan lifted the contempt order on Miller, Bob Bennett said he was delighted that "Judy is now completely free to go about her great reporting as a very principled and honorable reporter." Since when does a principled and honorable reporter need a representative to deal with her paper's public editor -- especially a representative who will only "indicate" that Miller will talk "at some point"? This doesn't bode well.

But fear not, truth seekers, Calame does assure, "I would expect to have access to both Mr. Keller and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher, if necessary." If necessary? Are there any circumstances under which it would not be necessary to talk to the architects of the Times' Judy policy?

Next thing you know, we'll hear that Calame's column and Web Journal will only be available via TimesSelect, assuring that they will reach the smallest audience possible.

A programming note: I'll be on CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday morning (10 am ET/7 am PT) discussing the Times' Judy Miller accounting with Howard Kurtz and others.