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Some Times reporters question whether editor can effectively lead in wake of Miller scandal

Jason Leopold

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Following an explosive report in Sunday’s New York Times which revealed that the leadership of the paper allowed beleaguered reporter Judith Miller to call the shots during the course of a federal leak investigation, several reporters say they no longer believe that executive editor Bill Keller can effectively run the paper.

The Times’ 5,800-word opus and Miller’s first-person account of her involvement in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Wilson’s identity was posted on the Times’ website Saturday. Since then, RAW STORY has been in contact with 13 reporters who cover a wide variety of beats, from the war in Iraq to day-to-day reporting in New York.

None were willing to allow their names to be used, fearing their jobs might be placed in jeopardy. But all who spoke to RAW STORY said their respect for Keller has ebbed.

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“I don’t think Keller can survive this,” said one reporter Saturday evening. “He's definitely going to be looked at differently. It's going to be hard to respect him as a journalist, at least that's the way I feel about it.”

Another reporter said that Keller was not truthful with the Times staff when he said that Miller’s 85-day incarceration at a federal detention center was about upholding the first amendment.

“I feel like he (Keller) lied to us,” said a reporter who writes about business for the Times. “If you read the story it doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with protecting sources. It just sounds like Judy was covering her own ass.”

Another reporter who had covered the Iraq war last year, remarked: “I just think nobody is going to respect Bill. Not after finding out that he didn’t even check Judy’s notebook. He just basically got behind her without finding out the facts of all of this and now that the truth is out, at least some of it, I think it’s pretty clear he made a huge mistake.”

Other Times reporters echoed their colleagues’ opinions. They said they too feel Keller erred by rallying around Miller before finding out exactly what her role was in the case.

Keller was named executive editor at the Times in 2003. His arrival marked the departure of Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, who resigned under pressure after a rogue reporter, Jayson Blair, was found to have fabricated three dozen stories. Despite numerous corrections and repeated warnings from editors that the reporter be sidelined, Raines had promoted Blair.

The Miller scandal could also affect the Times publisher and Chairman Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger, Jr. Sulzberger’s job, however, is more secure. Because the Sulzberger family owns 70 percent of a special class of stock in Times Company, the Sulzberger family retains more voting power than the shareholders.

Michael Golden, editor of the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, and Sulzberger’s cousin, has had a tumultuous relationship with “Pinch” for nearly a decade and has long angled for control of the family's flagship paper. The latest news is sure to cause further infighting among family members, particularly if the Miller scandal has a negative impact on the value of the company’s shares.

For Sulzberger, editorial scandals at the Times were supposed to end after Jayson Blair. But many critics and pundits say the Miller issue is worse and that someone very high up will have to lose their job as a result.

Many insiders believe Golden was the one responsible for forcing Sulzberger to fire Raines after the Blair scandal erupted.

“Some believe Pinch came under heavy pressure from the older generation - which includes his father, former publisher "Punch" Sulzberger - to oust Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd. Others believe the pressure came as well from Pinch's cousins, headed by Michael Golden, who lost out in a battle to control the company years ago,” the Washington Post reported in 2003.

Several reporters said that Miller was asked to take a permanent sabbatical from the Times.

"From what I understand Judy isn't coming back,” one reporter said. “She's on permanent sabbatical. That's the gossip in the newsroom. I think she took a buyout. That's what everyone is saying, but Sulzberger doesn't want that to get out cause it would be a public relations disaster for the paper."

Originally published on Monday October 17, 2005.

 


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