BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The Bush Administration is under siege.
REPORTER: What did the President know and when did he know it? What did he know about [FADE OUT]
REPORTER: And knowledgeable sources say that Pat, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, does not plan any announcement in the case this week --
REPORTER: Legal analysts believe it means Fitzgerald will likely present his evidence through criminal indictment.
REPORTER: Time Magazine reports Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove plans to resign or take an unpaid leave if he's indicted in the CIA leak case.
BOB GARFIELD: The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway and beyond is that, this week, at least one and possibly two senior White House officials will be indicted for crimes related to the Valerie Plame affair. U.S. News and World Report published rumors that - nevermind Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby - Vice President Cheney's head might roll. So let's talk about Judith Miller. She is the New York Times reporter who has become the story within the story about who outed CIA officer Plame and why. Two weeks ago, after serving 85 days in jail on contempt charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury, Miller finally relented, whereupon all that had been so murky in the case became murkier still. The latest chapter actually began last month, with a note from Miller's source, vice presidential aide Scooter Libby, releasing her from her pledge of confidentiality. This release was materially no different from the one he offered a year ago, an offer Miller and the Times deemed coerced. But this time she was satisfied. Maybe it was the three months in custody, or maybe it was Libby's prose. [BIRDS CHIRPING] "Out West, where you vacation," he wrote, "the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters because their roots connect them. Come back to work, and life." Their roots connect them? Has he been reading too much Deepak Chopra, or was it a secret message?
ADAM LIPTAK: It's weird enough that you don't dismiss out of hand the notion that it was some sort of code. We've come so far that you can't even dismiss that out of hand.
BOB GARFIELD: Times reporter Adam Liptak has been covering the Plame affair for two years, a beat that earned him the bonus of working on last Sunday's 6,000 word New York Times investigation of the New York Times conduct in the Plame affair, a story accompanied by a 3,000 word mea non culpa from Judy Miller herself.
ADAM LIPTAK: The piece was completely unsatisfactory. And then her attitude that she would not answer further questions on that subject matter was just as unsatisfactory. The piece was heavily lawyered, which is an unusual thing for a journalist's work to do. That is, her lawyers read and revised the piece before it was published. And I think that's a deeply questionable practice.
BOB GARFIELD: But her guardedness turned out to be pointless in the face of her first person story, itself in several ways a jaw dropping self indictment. For all the lawyering, Miller's piece revealed glaring journalistic crimes of precisely the sort that made her a controversial figure in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when her ominous reporting on Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction bolstered the Administration's rationale for war.
SETH MNOOKIN: She was a woman on a mission and was very difficult to control.
BOB GARFIELD: Journalist Seth Mnookin is author of Hard News, a book about the Times he researched in the middle of Miller's WMD reporting. He was as stunned as anyone by revelations from her own piece, among them that while an embed in Iraq, she agreed to a degree of secrecy about what she learned there, far beyond the routine "we won't disclose operational details" promises demanded of all reporters.
SETH MNOOKIN: That's an extremely, extremely bizarre and unique situation. As a reporter, I would have difficulty accepting that type of arrangement.
ALLAN WOLPER: That means she was clearing stuff with the Army.
BOB GARFIELD: Allan Wolper is the ethics columnist for Editor and Publisher Magazine.
ALLAN WOLPER: There's never a circumstance where you're signing up to enlist in the Army at the expense of your readers and your editor. There's no such thing.
BOB GARFIELD: Wolper is equally appalled by Miller's description of protecting Scooter Libby by agreeing to identify him not as an anonymous senior White House official, but as a former Capitol Hill staffer. While Libby did, once upon a time, work on the Hill, the misdirection would have clearly violated the Times's explicit policy on sourcing, not to mention the readers' trust.
ALLAN WOLPER: It misrepresents who the person was that they were speaking to, and therefore the reader doesn't know. The reason that you give a person anonymity in journalism is so that person is not fired, they're not killed, their children aren't dragged off somewhere.
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: So why are you protecting your source that way? Because you want to be able to go back to that source again and again and again.
BOB GARFIELD: Newsweek Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor Christopher Dickey, who reported alongside Miller in Libya and elsewhere, believes this and her other glaring excesses were rooted in her compulsion to maintain access to the corridors of power. Access, he says, can be addictive.
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: And it's often destructive, because her great virtue and, I guess in some ways, her great failing, is that she was always able to get very close to the people at the pinnacle of power at any story that she was covering, and she tended to listen to what they had to say, convey what they had to say and maybe not question as much or at all what they were saying. And frankly, I think that's why the New York Times tried many times to pair her up with somebody else. She would get the access. She would get the pointed bits of information, and other reporters would be there trying to figure out if it was true or not.
BOB GARFIELD: Dickey is quick to point out that the lust for inside sources and the uncritical reporting of their pronouncements is hardly unique to Judy Miller. It is endemic in modern reporting, especially in these days when resources for slow cooked, triple checked investigative journalism are dwindling. But it was Times Executive Editor Howell Raines who told Judy Miller to, quote: "Go out and win a Pulitzer" without paying strict attention as to how she went about it. Raines, of course, is no longer executive editor. He fell on his sword for the Jayson Blair scandal and other high profile embarrassments. The current boss is Bill Keller, who commissioned Sunday's pieces at least in part to quell the trash talk about his paper. Last week when it became apparent that the 9,000 word package raised as many questions as it answered, he e mailed his staff from China. "When I get back," he wrote," I'll still have some important loose ends to tie up from this episode."
SETH MNOOKIN: He's probably not talking about, you know, emptying out his coffee cups and returning his e mail.
BOB GARFIELD: Author Seth Mnookin.
SETH MNOOKIN: I suspect that the resolution we'll see from this is that in one way or another, she will not be writing for the New York Times again.
BOB GARFIELD: Another loose end might be explaining how, as revealed last Sunday, the Times spent millions of dollars and all of its prestige defending Miller's stance without knowing whether Scooter Libby did or did not, by name, out CIA officer Plame. No doubt Keller was surprised that Miller cooled her heels in jail for 85 days, only to testify, "Eh, I don't remember."
SETH MNOOKIN: That's likely one of the things that Bill Keller [LAUGHS] is going to need to address with his staff is, is why was it that the paper went down this road, this very public, very expensive, very traumatic road, and it seems that the two top executives did not have full knowledge of what the situation was.
BOB GARFIELD: But then, who did? In maybe the most bizarre manifestation of journalistic translucency, a story in last Monday's Times parsed the revelations reported in last Sunday's Times. This isn't journalism. It's an M.C. Escher print, infinitely turning back on itself. Adam Liptak.
ADAM LIPTAK: It's very difficult to report on your own institution and on your own superiors. And I think that if most major American institutions were to say to the world, if, you know, whether it's General Motors or an accounting firm or anybody else, you know, "Take our word for it, we're going to get to the bottom of this on your behalf," the ordinary reaction would be laughter.
BOB GARFIELD: Yup, because Scooter Libby was right. No matter how proud and solitary seemed the towering aspens, underneath the roots are connected. Editors editing reporters reporting about other reporters and their too intimate sources. It's all too connected to disentangle. [BIRDS CHIRPING UP AND UNDER] And maybe it's why, as November approaches, these aspens are all turning the same sick shade of yellow. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]