News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Will Judith Miller Probe Go 'Public'?

By Joe Strupp

Published: October 12, 2005 3:20 PM ET

NEW YORK As New York Times public editor Byron Calame comes under scrutiny for declining to comment on the newspaper's current coverage of the Judith Miller saga, former public editor Daniel Okrent tells E&P this is the kind of issue he would love to tackle were he still on the job.

Calame, meanwhile, told E&P today, "When I have something to say, I will say it first to the readers. I am watching the developments and doing it with special interest." When asked what would prompt him to weigh in on the paper's coverage (which has been criticized for being so muted), he added "if I decide that's important, I will tell the readers."

He would not say why he had not written about Miller's jailing, release, or testimony yet, and rejected the notion, floated by some, that the Times should have assigned the task of writing a full account of the Miller affair to someone outside the newsroom -- namely, Calame.

While Okrent declined to comment on how the Times had been covering the Miller story, or on Calame's decision so far not to write about it, he indicated he would have savored such an issue to review.

"If I were there, this is exactly the kind of issue I would want to get my teeth into. It is interesting stuff and it is important," Okrent said during a phone interview from Cape Cod, where he is working on a book about Prohibition.

Okrent, the paper's first public editor who left the post after 18 months in May, also revealed that a compilation of his Times columns was in the works. He said a contract with Public Affairs Books had been signed last month, with publication likely in May 2006.

He noted that he had written at least three public editor columns related to Judith Miller. The first, in May 2004, discussed a controversial editors' note the Times ran the same week admitting mistakes in its past WMD coverage. In that column, Okrent noted "the flimsiness" of a Miller story in 2003 related to WMDs.

The other columns were a Feb. 6, 2005 piece in which Okrent criticized Miller for breaking news about her case on MSNBC rather than in the Times, while a brief portion of his last column in May 2005 said the prospect of Miller being jailed for protecting a source was "nausea-inducing."

Miller's showdown with the special prosecutor "is important, the world is talking about it and the paper should pay attention," Okrent said about the ongoing saga. "But I don't want to comment on how they are doing it. I have chosen not to comment on what the Times does these days."

Calame, who took over the public editor column in June and has a two-year contract to write it, declined to comment on Okrent's views. He hinted, however, that he may eventually have to write something about the Miller coverage, given the interest from readers and the fact that the newspaper is busily preparing its promised report on Miller's involvement.

The current public editor said he did not want to be part of the expected news report. "I don't think the public editor should be involved," he said. "It is pretty clear they are doing something and pressing ahead with it as fast as they can. You will get my opinion when I see what they do."

Calame also declined to comment on why the paper had printed so few letters to the editor on Miller, or why no columnists (besides Frank Rich) have written about her lately. "I can't speak for the editorial page at all," he said. "I am not part of [that] department."


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