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Reporters say Miller got 'high six figure' severance; Miller scoops Times on farewell

Jason Leopold

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Judith Miller, who retired from the New York Times Wednesday after more than 28 years at the paper, launched a website (www.judithmiller.org) a few weeks ago to respond to the her critics, some of whom include Times staff, who wrote scathing news stories about her cozy relationship with key members of the Bush administration as well as her flawed reporting on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction which laid the groundwork for war.

Miller, who joined the Times Washington bureau in 1977, spent 85 days in jail after refusing to reveal who told her the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Since her release, reporters say, she had not been cooperative with the paper’s investigation into her role in events surrounding the case.

Four Times reporters told RAW STORY Wednesday that word around the newsroom is that Miller exited the paper with a “high six figure” retirement package. A Times spokeswoman said terms of the Miller’s exit package could not be disclosed.

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Miller’s voicemail at the Times makes no mention of her retirement. A message left for her was not returned.

Last month, the paper published a lengthy story about Miller’s unusual role in the Plame Wilson case and Miller wrote a first person account of her involvement when she was released from a federal penitentiary in September that left readers and the journalism community with more questions than answers.

But Miller, a resident of posh Sag Harbor, N.Y., is firing back at her critics. She posted copies of the letters she wrote to reporters after critical stories about her were published in various newspapers across the country.

In response to Maureen Dowd’s explosive Times column, titled “Woman of Mass Destruction” in which Dowd wrote that she “always liked Miller” but that Miller should have been kept on a “tight editorial leash,” the now former award-winning reporter shot back at Dowd, claiming that the column was full of holes.

Dear Maureen, I’m glad you always liked me. But in the interests of journalistic accuracy at a very sensitive time for The Times and for me, I wish you had checked some of these damaging assertions about me before you printed them. If you had, there are seven specific mistakes you could have avoided. As important, you could have avoided creating a false and damaging impression that I had tried to cover up for a crime, or that I had convenient memory lapses at the behest of the administration.

Miller also scooped the Times by posting her farewell column on her website before it appeared in the Times’ Thursday editions, where it is scheduled to run in the 'Letters to the Editor' section instead of the Op Ed page which Miller originally demanded. Miller said she intends to continue lobbying for a federal shield law for reporters, and plans to keep writing about the subject for which she received an unprecedented amount of criticism.

“In my future writing, I intend to call attention to the internal and external threats to our country’s freedoms – Al Qaeda and other forms of religious extremism, conventional and W.M.D. terrorism, and growing government secrecy in the name of national security – subjects that have long defined my work,” she said.

Miller's farewell follows.

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Judith Miller's Farewell

To the Editor:

On July 6 I chose to go to jail to defend my right as a journalist to protect a confidential source, the same right that enables lawyers to grant confidentiality to their clients, clergy to their parishioners, and physicians and psychotherapists to their patients. Though 49 states have extended this privilege to journalists as well, for without such protection a free press cannot exist, there is no comparable federal law. I chose to go to jail not only to honor my pledge of confidentiality, but also to dramatize the need for such a federal law.

After 85 days, more than twice as long as any other American journalist has ever spent in jail for this cause, I agreed to testify before the special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s grand jury about my conversations with my source, I. Lewis Libby Jr. I did so only after my two conditions were met: first, that Mr. Libby voluntarily relieve me in writing and by phone of my promise to protect our conversations; and second, that the special prosecutor limit his questions only to those germane to the Valerie Plame Wilson case. Contrary to inaccurate reports, these two agreements could not have been reached before I went to jail. Without them, I would still be in jail, perhaps, my lawyers warned, charged with obstruction of justice, a felony. Though some colleagues disagreed with my decision to testify, for me to have stayed in jail after achieving my conditions would have seemed self-aggrandizing martyrdom or worse, a deliberate effort to obstruct the prosecutor’s inquiry into serious crimes.

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.

Even before I went to jail, I had become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war. Several articles I wrote or co-wrote were based on this faulty intelligence, and in May 2004, The Times concluded in an editors’ note that its coverage should have reflected greater editorial and reportorial skepticism.

At a commencement speech I delivered at Barnard College in 2003, a year before that note was published, I asked whether the administration’s prewar W.M.D. intelligence was merely wrong, or was it exaggerated or even falsified. I believed then, and still do, that the answer to bad information is more reporting. I regret that I was not permitted to pursue answers to the questions I raised at Barnard. Their lack of answers continues to erode confidence in both the press and the government.

The right of reply and the obligation to correct inaccuracies are also the mark of a free and responsible press. I am gratified that Bill Keller, The Times executive editor, has finally clarified remarks made by him that were unsupported by fact and personally distressing. Some of his comments suggested insubordination on my part. I have always written the articles assigned to me, adhered to the paper’s sourcing and ethical guidelines, and cooperated with editorial decisions, even those with which I disagreed.

I salute The Times’s editorial page for advocating a federal shield law before, during and after my jailing and for supporting as recently two weeks ago my willingness to go to jail to uphold a vital principle. Most of all, I want to thank those colleagues who stood by me after I was criticized on these pages. My response to such criticism can be read in full on my web site: JudithMiller.org.

I will continue speaking in support of a Federal shield law. In my future writing, I intend to call attention to the internal and external threats to our country’s freedoms – Al Qaeda and other forms of religious extremism, conventional and W.M.D. terrorism, and growing government secrecy in the name of national security – subjects that have long defined my work. I also leave knowing that The Times will continue the tradition of excellence that has made it indispensable to its readers, a standard for journalists, and a bulwark of democracy.

Originally published on Wednesday November 9, 2005

 


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