Return to Transcripts main page
Miller Forced Out of 'The Times'; Interview With Mary Mapes
Aired November 13, 2005 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDITH MILLER, FMR. "NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: I had nothing but a proper relationship with Mr. Libby.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Exit strategy. Judith Miller forced out of "The New York Times" as the paper's editors says he didn't mean to accuse her of improper entanglement with Scooter Libby.
Has "The Times" stopped the bleeding? And can Miller restore her tattered credibility?
Fighting the last war? Dan Rather's former producer insists her "60 Minutes" story about President Bush's National Guard service was on target and rips her old network for firing her. Mary Mapes talks back to the media in a RELIABLE SOURCES interview.
Security risk? Republican leaders launch an investigation of "The Washington Post" for disclosing secret CIA prisons in Europe for interrogating terror suspects, while liberals denounce the paper for holding back the locations.
Did "The Post" endanger lives?
Plus, NBC News puts its stamp on a presidential debate Hollywood style.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis every Sunday, 10:00 Eastern, 9:00 Central.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, Judith Miller forced out at "The New York Times." We'll have a damage assessment.
But first, it was just over a year ago in the heat of the 2004 campaign that Dan Rather and "60 Minutes II" made those bombshell charges about President Bush receiving favorable treatment from the National Guard based on memos said to have been written by a long-dead Guard commander, Jerry Killian.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, FMR. CBS ANCHOR (voice over): "60 Minutes" has now obtained a number of documents we are told were taken from Colonel Killian's personal file. Among them, a never-before-seen memorandum from May 1972, where Colonel Killian writes that Lieutenant Bush called him to talk about how he "can get out of coming to drill from now through November."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The documents immediately came under attack first by conservative bloggers, and then by major news organizations. But Rather and his producer Mary Mapes dug in their heels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far, there is none.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Finally, CBS backed off the story after Killian's former secretary, Marian Knox, said the memos were fake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIAN CARR KNOX, KILLIAN'S FMR. SECRETARY: I did not type those memos.
RATHER: You didn't type these memos?
KNOX: No. And it's not the form that I would have used.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You probably know the rest. Rather stepped down as anchor. CBS forced out Mapes and three top executives. And an outside panel found the news division had "failed miserably" to authenticate the disputed documents.
But the story looks very different to Mary Mapes, who has just written "Truth and Duty," a book about how she believes CBS failed to defend a legitimate news story. She joins us now from Dallas in our "Talk Back to the Media" segment.
MARY MAPES, FMR, CBS PRODUCER: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Mary Mapes, hours after that broadcast, you got hammered by people who you describe in the book as vicious and bloodthirsty bloggers with pitch forks and fiery torches.
What was that experience like?
MAPES: Well, it was terrifying. I think you have to think back to a year ago, more than a year ago now. And no one had ever seen this kind of onslaught aimed at a mainstream media organization. And gosh, I can tell you, Howard, if you were in that -- the middle of the death ray, you would have felt it, too.
We're talking about thousands of e-mails going to various CBS affiliates, blog sites with chat room -- you know, people chatting and none of them giving their names. You know, everybody was signing "Big Kahuna" or something like that and saying things about me, that I was a communist, or, you know, certainly a fool and a liberal tool. And I was somebody who had worked in journalism for 25 years.
MAPES: I was not political. And it was -- it was pretty panicky.
KURTZ: Sure. Now, some of the bloggers did use their names, but obviously many did not.
Now, you hand out a lot of blame in this book, and we'll talk about some of the specifics. But did you make mistakes?
For example, you write that you were uncomfortable with the script before this went on the air. But did do you anything about that?
MAPES: I did. I want to tell you something though, Howard. You made a mistake just now in your setup piece, which really was a setup piece.
You ran a clip of Marian Carr Knox saying only that she believed these memos were fake and that she did not type them. What you didn't run was that she went on and, in great detail, said this was exactly the information she knew that Killian had written in memos. This was exactly what had happened within the Guard, and she believed that the content of the memos were true.
KURTZ: And I was going to ask you about that, because she said two different things. One is that she believed that basically Lieutenant Bush had received favorable treatment. But at the same time, she said that these memos, which after all was the lynchpin, the core of your broadcast, were not real. Yet you had a problem with the news organizations you felt just focusing on one side of what she said.
MAPES: Well, I didn't think it was an either/or situation. I think -- I mean, you had to take what she said, both sides of it.
I thought she was a fascinating person. She had a very good memory. And I think she was -- she believed very strongly that she did all the typing for Lieutenant Colonel Killian and that she didn't type these. On the other hand, she was equally adamant that the content in this was absolutely accurate. And that's a little bit of a news mystery. And as a reporter, it's difficult to sort out exactly what happened there.
KURTZ: Let's take a look at what Les Moonves had to say. He's the CBS chairman, and this interview took place after the outside inquiry found fault with CBS News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LES MOONVES, CHAIRMAN, CBS: Clearly, this is a bit of a black mark against CBS News. And clearly, things were done in this report that were unfair and untrue. A red flag wasn't thrown up in the air saying, wait a minute, can we verify the documents, can we verify the experts?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What's your take on Les Moonves' role here?
MAPES: I think what Les said there was -- one of the things he said was absolutely accurate. He said things were done in this report that were unfair and untrue. Not my report, his report.
The independent investigation was chaired by, for one, a former Republican attorney general who had never had any experience with journalism in his life except avoiding it. It was also chaired by Lou Boccardi, the retired chief of Associated Press, who had been a manager of managers.
And then the people -- the bulk of the work was really done by securities fraud and corporate attorneys. And it was a tremendously legalistic process. And journalism is not a courtroom procedure.
As you know, Howard, as well as anyone, journalism is something completely different. And in the independent review, we descended into discussion of all kinds of legalisms. And then we also -- I also had the horrifying experience of having all my e-mails and notes from CBS turned over to this panel.
MAPES: And then the panel read them aloud and made judgments on everything from my language to whether or not I thought I was a liberal.
KURTZ: Let me break in here because I want to get to a lot of points. Your one secret source, Bill Burkett, who was a former National Guardsman, clearly didn't like George W. Bush, as you write in the book. He admitted lying. He had admitted it on camera about what he originally told you about where he got these documents.
You were never able to verify where he got the documents. He was the middleman. Didn't that keep you up at night?
MAPES: You mean now?
KURTZ: At the time you put these on the air and your source wasn't the original person who had them.
MAPES: Well, I didn't know that. When we put these on the air, I didn't know that Burkett had told me something other than what was true. That he made that confession afterwards, and he said that he had told me he'd gotten them in one place because I had pressured him so much about where he'd gotten them.
But of course when a source changes his story on you, it bothers you. It still keeps me up at night, of course.
KURTZ: All right.
Now, I talked to three of the document experts who were hired by CBS, people you dealt with, who told me that either they didn't feel they could authenticate these disputed memos or that they had raised red flags in the process before the broadcast. One of them was Emily Will. Let's take a look at what she had to say to ABC's Brian Ross.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN ROSS, ABC (voice over): Emily Will, a court-certified examiner from North Carolina, says she saw problems right away with the one document CBS hired her to check in the days before the broadcast.
EMILY WILL, COURT-CERTIFIED EXAMINER: I found problems with the printing itself, as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Emily Will now has a Web site in which she takes issue with parts of your book, Mary Mapes, calling references to her, at least, inaccurate and totally false.
My point is not whether she's right or wrong. My point is, why didn't you hit the brakes after some of your document experts raised these questions?
MAPES: I think you're completely misinterpreting what was said. I mean, Howard, you were one of the people that had one of what I thought was the most serious problem originally understanding the whole concept of document authentication. You used the word "authenticate" as if it meant 100 percent assurance, which is really -- that's really what it means. But there is a difference between that and vouching for the documents.
I had two documents examiners, Marcel Matly and Jim Pierce. And these were the two most experienced people, the people I counted on the most.
Jim Pierce has 34 years experience with -- strictly with document examination. He told me he saw nothing to indicate that these were not produced at the time they were supposed to be produced. He felt that the typeface -- he thought it was a thin courier type face. He had no problem with the super script or the proportional spacing.
Same thing was true of Marcel Matly. And this is when they looked at the signature and the documents.
KURTZ: Well, I called up Marcel Matly at the time, your lead expert, and he said to me, "There is no way that I as a document expert can authenticate them."
MAPES: That's absolutely true, Howard.
KURTZ: I can't -- let me finish. "I can't say either way from the narrow, narrow little field of my expertise." And you say in the book it is impossible to 100 percent authenticate because only original documents can be tested and proved authentic, and these were copies.
I don't take the position whether these are real or fake. I don't know.
My point is, I don't think that even at this point that you even know. And so how were you able to risk your reputation and Dan Rather's reputation and that of CBS News by putting on the air these papers where you weren't fully sure that they were real?
MAPES: You're talking about counting on only document analysis to vet these papers. That's not what we did.
I would never have put these on the air. Dan Rather and I, all of us at "60 Minutes II," would not have put these on air if we had not done a tremendous amount of work outside of document analysis.
I always felt the document analysis was the weakest way of determining, because you really had no way of saying 100 percent sure that these things were real. What I believed in was vetting, vetting the information in the documents, the date, the service number, the address, the 1972 Air Force annual paragraph and page.
All that information, meshing these documents, the new documents, with the old official documents, this is very tedious, journalistic investigative work. It is not easy, and it's something we did very intensely over a number of days.
I found that the meshing worked perfectly. They fit together perfectly. No dates bumped up against each other. No events did.
KURTZ: Your former...
MAPES: And then I corroborated it with Lieutenant Colonel Killian's commander.
KURTZ: Your former boss at "60 Minutes II," Josh Howard, told me that he felt a key turning point in deciding to go ahead was when the documents were taken to the White House and then communications director Dan Bartlett didn't deny them. Bartlett told me, "How am I supposed to verify something that came from a dead man in three hours?"
So we're really talking here about why the rush to air. Five days from the time that you obtained these documents, you made these checks, you called some these people, some of them change their stories, in retrospect, shouldn't you have at least held up the story for further checking and further reporting, further...
MAPES: I could have. But I'll tell you what, Howard. The same thing would have happened.
The exact same thing would have happened, because I think what happened to us is part of a larger pattern of intimidation of the press that has been going on with this administration for years. An I think it's been intimidation and spin.
I think what you put in your articles and what a number of other mainstream folks put in their articles was basically bad intel. And I think some very good journalists -- leave me out of it -- lost their jobs because of this. And it was unfair.
And I think people who did reporting on this really didn't do independent reporting. They repeated. They didn't report.
KURTZ: Well, some of my colleagues talked to an awful lot of experts. But I just want to pick up on one point before we go to break.
MAPES: But I mean about the story and about the content.
KURTZ: Before we go to break, you talked about intimidation by the White House. You write in the book that Karl Rove, White House senior adviser, was the mastermind of the Republican attack against the story.
What evidence do you have of that?
MAPES: What I -- what I said later, if you read down in the book, is that he was -- he was the inspiration. I certainly don't have evidence, but I do think there is something very odd when the first attack from the story -- on the story comes within a couple of hours, and it's launched by a Republican lawyer in Atlanta who is a GOP activist.
KURTZ: All right. We need to get a break.
When we come back, the fallout from the Guard story for former CBS anchor Dan Rather. More with Mary Mapes in a moment.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Dan Rather returns to the CBS airwaves tonight with his first "60 Minutes" piece since stepping down as anchor. But should he still be at the network at all? Here is what his CBS colleague Mike Wallace had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE WALLACE, CBS: Dan should have said, if they go, I go. If the people on whom he depended are fired, lose their jobs, he was the -- he was the guy on camera. Absolutely he should have resigned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mary Mapes, I presume you disagree with that.
MAPES: I sure do. I think it's also ironic, because you may remember a certain incident with Mike Wallace, it turned into the movie "The Insider." Mike's producer is no longer at CBS after having been treat rather badly. And Mike sure didn't walk out the door in a huff.
MAPES: I don't -- I don't agree with that at all. I think it's tragic that four people lost their jobs. I think having five people lose their jobs would have just made it worse.
KURTZ: During the run-up to the story as been widely reported, you called Joe Lockhart, then a spokesman of John Kerry's presidential campaign, and asked him if he would have a conversation with your source, Bill Burkett. With the benefit of hindsight -- and they did have a brief conversation -- didn't that have the appearance of making of you look like a partisan?
MAPES: I actually, Howard, did not call Joe Lockhart. I didn't have any contacts at the Kerry campaign. And I wouldn't have had Lockhart's phone number.
I'm afraid like a lot of producers I've avoided politics like the plague. I called the press person, Chad Clanton, and I left him Burkett's phone number and told to call him if he wanted to.
That was something that Burkett asked me to do. I got permission from my executive producer to do it. And I did it.
KURTZ: You wish you hadn't done it -- yes.
MAPES: In hindsight -- in hindsight, of course I wish I hadn't done it. I did it as a favor to Burkett. And I think it was terribly misinterpreted.
Although I have to tell you, it's been interesting in the Plame investigation seeing the constant -- what appears to be, you know, the constant communication and practically the exchange of bodily fluids going on between reporters and sources within the administration. I certainly didn't do anything like that.
KURTZ: You write in "Truth and Duty" that Bush didn't keep his promise to the country. He walked away from his duty.
How strongly did you feel then, do you feel now, about that in terms of your pursuing this story?
MAPES: I think that's absolutely true. I have to say, when I grew up, if I'd been a little bit older and if I'd been a boy, I came from a social class where I would have had my rear end in Vietnam.
President Bush was lucky enough that he had other options. And so did a number of other people in his unit. And then he did not -- he was supposed to keep flying until, depending on which document you believe, May of 1974, or December of 1974.
Instead, he crawled out of the cockpit in April of 1972 and he never went back. He had a million dollars worth of training, and he never went back and kept his promise that he would fly and that he would repay America for the investment they made in him.
And if it were George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or Ralph Nader or Lyndon LaRouche, I don't care who it is, that's a problem.
KURTZ: In other words, you did not have a particular either political or personal feeling that you wanted to nail this guy?
MAPES: No. You know, Howard, I guess I don't view myself in those sort of grandiose terms.
I've lived in Texas for 15 years. I covered Karla Fay Tucker because it was a Texas case. Bush was my governor before he was your president. I had access to a lot of sources down here that I think folks in Washington and New York an other places did not.
MAPES: And I went with that because it was right in my back yard. And that's what reporters do.
KURTZ: Mary Mapes, I have just a few seconds. You had a distinguished career before this unfortunate incident. Do you hope to be able to stay in journalism?
MAPES: Well, we'll see. I love journalism very, very much.
I hope people understand that somebody like me, or someone like Dan Rather, certainly, we don't win a Peabody in one year for investigative reporting and then, you know, fly into a wall completely later. I hope people keep an open mind. I hope they read the book. And I hope they look again at this story, because I think there were mistakes made by people other than us.
KURTZ: All right. Well, Mary Mapes, thanks very much for coming on this morning and taking these difficult questions. We appreciate it.
MAPES: Oh, it was fun, Howard. Thank you.
KURTZ: Just ahead, our "Blogger Buzz." What role did online commentators play in CBS's National Guard fiasco, and what are they saying now about Mary Mapes? Two top online writers take up the debate in a moment.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Joining us now to talk more about Mary Mapes and the CBS National Guard controversy, in Minneapolis, attorney Scott Johnson of powerlineblog.com, one of those who led the charge against Mary Mapes and the "60 Minutes II" story last fall.
And in New York, Eric Boehlert, former senior writer at Salon, a contributor to thehuffingtonpost.com, an author of the upcoming book "The Lap Dogs: How Bush Got the Press to Heal."
Scott Johnson, Mary Mapes apparently believes that right-wing bloggers with pitchforks like you set out to destroy her and Dan Rather for political reasons. Your response?
SCOTT JOHNSON, BLOGGER, POWERLINE: Well, you know, on the morning of September 9, we were just disseminating information that we were inundated with, with readers, regarding the fraudulence of the CBS "60 Minutes" story. But don't worry about us.
She's out peddling a fraud now this year, as she was last year, only she's charging $25 for it with this book. Read a free book that came out in January this year, the Thornburgh report, on this story. And if you do that, it's available for free on the Internet, you'll fined some very interesting facts that she doesn't mention about this story.
For example, she alluded to the alleged preferential treatment that President Bush got in getting into the National Guard in 1968, which is an absolute lie. The report discloses that in 1999, Mary Mapes interviewed three witnesses with first-hand knowledge of President Bush's admission to the National Guard, General Hodges, General Stout (ph), and Colonel Rufus Martin. And her interviews of those three folks with first-hand knowledge of the facts, they stated absolutely that there was a dire need of pilots, that they were looking for pilots...
JOHNSON: ... that there were openings in the Guard, and that that's why he got in. They rated him in the top 10 percent of candidates for the pilot position.
KURTZ: Let me now bring in Eric Boehlert.
There were a lot of bloggers who enjoyed beating up on CBS and Dan Rather, perhaps some of them for ideological reasons. But didn't they also raise legitimate questions about the providence of these documents?
ERIC BOEHLERT, POLITICAL WRITER: Well, they raised issues about -- questions about the documents. But as we're seeing now, they're also trying to raise issues about the entire story, Bush's admission, Bush's failure to serve, and things like that. And that's where I think they're going way over the line.
You know, the fact that three Texas commanders now want to sort of cover their butts and say, well, Bush got no preferential treatment, and we're supposed to accept that, I mean, you might want to talk to the tens of thousands of people who were on the waiting list to get into the National Guard in 1968. And if Bush really just wanted to learn how to fly like his dad, why didn't he join the Marines, who were taking pilots who would have shipped him over to Vietnam within six months?
So, you know, I don't mind a vigorous debate about the documents. And there were problems with that. But let's not pretend that, you know, Bush and the National Guard story doesn't exist.
JOHNSON: This is such baloney. You know, President Bush was flying an F-102, one of the most dangerous aircraft in the Air Force and the Air National Guard. There were 850 models that served. About more than a third of them went down in crashes. Seventy pilots died.
President Bush flew more than 300 hours on F-102 interceptor jets.
KURTZ: OK. Scott Johnson, I'm going to break in here, because I don't want to debate again what Bush did or didn't do.
JOHNSON: I'm talking about...
KURTZ: What I do want to talk about -- what I do want to talk about is the role of the press and the role of bloggers like yourself. I was going to ask you, how -- when did you become such a document expert that you were able to raise all these questions? And I think you gave us a hint when you said that you heard from a lot of people who were reading your online postings.
JOHNSON: Well, Howard, I knew nothing. I wrote about the "Boston Globe" story on the CBS "60 Minutes" story the morning of September 9 and quoted from two paragraphs of a post from "Free Republic" that raised an issue regarding the authenticity of the documents.
By the time I got to work half an hour later, I had about 50 e- mails of all different kinds, with information of all different kinds from readers with legitimate serious knowledge about military protocol, type face, and word processing, indicating that the documents were forgeries. And all we did was post 20 updates in the course of a day with information from readers generating those issues. And you picked up on it the next day, interviewing folks whom we included in our updates during the morning of September 9.
KURTZ: The speed of the bloggers was amazing here. But I also should point out that lots of major news organizations, not just "The Washington Post," also did their own reporting.
But Eric Boehlert, you alluded to a moment ago, did this debate that then raged online and elsewhere about superscript and proportional spacing, and could these 30-year-old memos have been typed on a government typewriter in the early 1970s, did that -- did the media allow that to either overshadow or even obliterate the larger question about President Bush's service in the National Guard?
BOEHLERT: The media ran for the hills. I mean, you know, Mary's description of the pitchfork might be an exaggeration, but I think the press felt that wrath. And there was no way they were going to stand up to this -- this crusade about these documents and stick with this story about Bush's Guard and his service and look at the records.
So absolutely they ran away from the story. And I think that...
KURTZ: But you're suggesting they ran away because they didn't want to engage in a larger debate, whereas I would say...
BOEHLERT: Oh, absolutely.
KURTZ: ... it was a major news organization, and one of the most -- one of the most famous anchorman in Dan Rather make charges based on memos that come under fire in the middle of a presidential campaign. How could you not cover it?
BOEHLERT: I'm not saying don't cover it. But I'm saying they ran away from the story whether Bush walked away from his duty for two years and was a ghost-like figure in the Texas Air National Guard for two years.
I mean, that's what they ran away from. You know, if they wanted -- you know, if "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post: wanted to, you know, put half a dozen reporters on, you know, examining these documents, that's up to them. I think it was extraordinary overkill.
But, you know, what they did was they ran away from the story. And that's unfortunate, because it was a legitimate question. And particularly after the same press just spent the entire month of August digging through John Kerry's record and sort of going along with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which turned out essentially to be a hoax.
KURTZ: Scott Johnson, I'm sure you'd like to respond to some of that.
JOHNSON: Well, I just go back to the fact that the substance of the story was a hoax without those documents, which were absolutely forgeries. Look at -- look at the Thornburgh report has the testimony of Peter Titel (ph), who indicates that this Times New Roman type that those four documents were prepared in didn't exist on typewriters. And he concludes that those were word processed documents.
JOHNSON: Without the documents there was no story.
KURTZ: In fairness, there were different experts, although many experts do agree with the experts hired by the commission. But you just used the word "hoax." That's a very strong word, because that suggests that CBS and Mary Mapes and Dan Rather did this deliberately, as opposed to perhaps not being careful enough.
Do you believe they actually tried to mislead viewers?
JOHNSON: Well, all I would say is the evidence in the report of coordination with the Kerry campaign is substantial. But I will say, now, for Mary Mapes to come on this show this morning and reiterate these fraudulent charges, is a hoax, is a deliberate fraud. Whatever was the status of the story on September 8, 2004, in November 2005 it is a knowing fraud.
KURTZ: Eric Boehlert, you've got the last 20 seconds.
BOEHLERT: Well, that's the problem with this. You know, I think the bloggers got -- hit a homerun with this, and their arrogance is now out of control.
They're saying the whole Bush National Guard story is a joke. And if the documents were forgery, why didn't Republican Richard Thornburgh make that conclusion in his report? He couldn't. And he wouldn't.
KURTZ: All right.
JOHNSON: It's on page 175.
KURTZ: Got to blow the whistle here, guys. Scott Johnson, Eric Boehlert, thanks very much for joining us.
And if bloggers are arrogant, they may have some company in the mainstream media.
Well, ahead in our next half-hour, Judith Miller parts company with "The New York Times." Can she revive her career?
And the other CIA leak. New investigation under way into "The Washington Post" story about secret prisons for terror suspects.
All that coming up after a check of the headlines from the CNN Center in Atlanta
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta, checking some stories "Now in the News."
President Bush heads to Asia tomorrow to discuss trade at the Asian Summit in South Korea, and for talks in Japan, China and Mongolia. At home, the president's popularity is sliding. A "Newsweek" poll shows his approval rating now at just 36 percent, down about four points from a month ago.
In Iraq, a military spokesman says a roadside bomb has killed two more U.S. Marines. The Marines say the troops were involved in combat operations on the western edge of Baghdad when the bomb exploded beneath their vehicle. So far 2,068 U.S. troops have died during the American-led military operation in Iraq.
An Oregon man is in critical condition this morning after a shootout with police. Salem Police say the man set fire to several patrol cars, then crashed his pickup truck into the Marion County Courthouse yesterday. After a three-hour standoff at the courthouse, police shot man.
More news coming up in 30 minutes.
RELIABLE SOURCES continues.
KURTZ: Welcome back to the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis every Sunday morning at 10:00.
She was already controversial for her erroneous reports on whether Iraq had WMDs. Then she got caught up in the CIA leak investigation, refusing to testify about her confidential conversations with Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby. The she went to jail for 85 days, then she got out, then her editor accused her of misleading the paper. And now Judith Miller is leaving ""The New York Times"."
She got what she wanted, a severance package, a letter to the editor to defend her work, and an acknowledgement by "Times" editor Bill Keller that he didn't mean to imply anything improper when he criticized her "entanglement" with the now-indicted Libby.
And "The Times" got something in return: the resignation of a reporter who critics say tarnished its reputation.
Joining us now here in Washington, Steve Roberts, who worked at ""The New York Times"" for 25 years. He's a syndicated columnist and professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University.
John Fund, a columnist for "The Wall Street Journal's" opinionjournal.com.
And Donatella Lorch, a former overseas correspondent for "The New York Times" and NBC News, who now runs the Knight International Press Fellowship program.
Steve Roberts, you worked with Judy Miller for many years. She has a letter that I referred to in this morning's paper. She says, "'The Times' misconstrued my reasons for finally agreeing to testify by quoting with approval the self-serving statements of Libby's lawyer."
How do you explain the way she views herself here, the gap between that and the apparent anger at her by many people who were at "The Times" and who used to work at "The Times?"
STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: You know, I think there is a parallel between Judith Miller and Mary Mapes, your guest on the first half-hour here, Howard. Both of them are convinced that they were right and everybody else was wrong.
And I think that Miller -- the single biggest mistake Judy Miller made was the same mistake Mary Mapes made. She wanted this story to be true true.
KURTZ: This being the WMD story.
ROBERTS: The WMD story. I think she protected Scooter Miller -- Scooter Libby not just as a confidential source, but as part of a group of people who were arguing the same line that she favored and wanted to defend.
I think she made the exact same mistake as Mary Mapes. She ran through the stop signs because she in her heart wanted this story to be true.
KURTZ: This is an extraordinary departure, Donatella Lorch, in which there were letters back and forth and charges back and forth. "The Times" made clear that she could not continue as a reporter there. What do you make of the way this ended?
DONATELLA LORCH, FMR. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think very sadly for both sides. You know, you look at Judy Miller, and she's like the Energizer bunny. She's showing up everywhere on a constant basis.
At the same time, when she -- you know, you feel like she's on a truth an reconciliation tour. And she's showing up again tomorrow in Washington, D.C.
And for "The Times," I mean, Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger made statements that they're trying to, you know, weave their way away from right now. And it's a very sad departure in both directions.
KURTZ: John Fund, I want to play a clip from Judy Miller on "LARRY KING LIVE" the other night talking about those very controversial stories about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction back in 2003. Here's what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDITH MILLER, FMR. "NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: I think part of it was a kind of lingering fury over the WMD reporting, the fact that there -- that some of the stories that I had written, some of the handful of stories that I had written over a 28-year career, had turned out to be based on faulty intelligence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So was her departure almost like a delayed punishment for those stories two years ago, as opposed to the back and forth of the case with Libby?
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Well, clearly. But let's be very clear, everyone got this story wrong, French intelligence, British intelligence, Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Bush administration. If mistakes were made -- and they were -- everybody participated in them.
You know, she's not...
KURTZ: So why then had she become such a lightning rod and so much of the focus been not on all the other news organizations that didn't successfully challenge the Bush administration's claims about Iraq?
FUND: I'm not an expert in office politics at "The New York Times," but clearly there was tension. All right?
ROBERTS: And I think also that -- I think she's right, there was lingering resentment there, Howie. But it's not just for these stories.
Judy Miller called herself Miss Run Amuck. Judy Miller for years has operated outside the rules of "The New York Times."
KURTZ: Well, I mean, she was your editor at one point. Was she difficult to work with?
ROBERTS: Impossible to work with.
KURTZ: Why so?
ROBERTS: And she herself has admitted she was a terrible editor. And she was right about that, at least.
KURTZ: Why was she impossible to work with?
ROBERTS: Because she was very high strung, very nervous, very uncertain and mercurial. The worst kind of person to have as an editor. What you need is steady calmness.
But beyond that, she always traded on her friendships with the publishers of "The New York Times." She always did not play by the same rules everybody else did.
The same mistake they made with Jayson Blair they made with Judy Miller. If you allow someone to operate outside the checks and balances, outside the editorial procedures, outside the normal bounds of responsibility, you're going to run into trouble.
They did not learn that lesson with Jayson Blair, and it came back to bite them with Judy Miller again.
KURTZ: Well, since you mentioned the publisher of "The New York Times," Arthur Sulzberger was on television a couple of days ago in an interview with Charlie Rose, and he was asked about how "The Times" treated Judy Miller.
Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ARTHUR SULZBERGER, JR., "NEW YORK TIMES" PUBLISHER: If you're asking whether the bonds of trust between Judy and her editors were strained, the answer is yes. They were strained.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Donatella Lorch, Steve Roberts, I'm getting the impression that, you know, she was a very hard-charging reporter with very sharp elbows, and she ran roughshod over a lot of people and a lot of people didn't like her. But I'm wondering if there's a piling- on effect now.
Is it -- is it her personality that has attracted all this criticism, or is it, for example, the reporting that she did and the way in which Steve says she seemed to protect -- maybe that's unfair -- she seemed to protect Scooter Libby?
LORCH: No, I agree. I mean, I definitely think it has a lot to do with her personality. But we mustn't forget certain things about Judy Miller.
She started work at "The New York Times" at a time where there were very, very few women reporters at "The New York Times." And it was tough battle for her. And she was setting an example.
And she set an example that, you know, she was supposed to be like Caesar's wife, beyond reproach. And instead, she turned into this Miss Run Amuck. In many ways, you know, many, many of her colleagues consider her pretty much of a -- almost a monster around. I mean, there has been such a disgust about what has been happening in the past few weeks at "The New York Times" among her colleagues.
FUND: The real consequence of all this for the long term is to the First Amendment. The chances of getting a federal shield law are much less than they were because of the way "The New York Times" and other news organizations mishandled this case.
I think "The Washington Post" did a much better job. They negotiated with the special prosecutor, they protected the sources, but they answered some questions.
By going to the mat on this for a problematic reported named Judith Miller, I think a lot of damage was done to the First Amendment and the protection that journalists try to give sources.
KURTZ: All right. But now also, just to come back to a moment to what she did and didn't do, in this letter to the editor this morning, this was part of the deal that she got to have the space in the paper so she could reply. There was the reference to the now- famous discussion with Scooter Libby about he would be identified as a former Hill staffer, not a senior administration official.
She says, well, she only agreed to listen to Libby as a former Hill staffer. But if she was going to actually use that in the paper, she would renegotiate the deal. ROBERTS: I mean, that's ridiculous. Now, look, I do want to say that I think she was heroic in going to jail for 85 days. I don't want to diminish that question of principle.
But I teach a course in journalistic ethics. If you took my course for 15 minutes, you would know that what she did was wrong.
You never, ever, ever agree to any kind of deception of any kind, period. This was such -- I think this is part of the anger.
People who try so hard to play by the rules have a colleague who doesn't play by the rules, and it casts doubt on all of us. It casts -- and that's part of the reason I think people at "The New York Times" were so upset, because their own credibility was at stake because of her mistakes.
FUND: There is a way to handle this. You listen to the person off record. You hear their story without any agreement. And if you want to use it, you try to convince them to go on the record later.
KURTZ: The question about legal strategies and shield laws aside, did this whole episode hurt journalism because not just Judy Miller, but a lot of the reporters here who were involved were seen as being conduits for administration officials who wanted to get even with a critic, Joe Wilson, by going after his wife? Didn't this hurt the reputation of journalism in a much broader sense than just the legalities?
LORCH: Yes. It underscored the fact, it highlights the fact that the newspaper, in this case "The New York Times," you know, the grand "New York Times," has been -- is seen as acquiescing or stepping back against the power of the administration. And Judy Miller...
KURTZ: Wait a second. Wait a second. They fought this all the way to the Supreme Court. She went to jail, yes. Then she...
LORCH: Yes, but they backed Judy Miller. The whole process of Judy Miller from the beginning and her story and her backing her without asking her sources. And then stepping -- I think that very much what she has done is -- what people at "The New York Times" say and my friends at "The New York Times" tell me is if it had been anybody else but Judy Miller, it would have been a different story.
KURTZ: Now, in terms of the fallout for "The Times," it seems to me that editor Bill Keller has now come clean with a very lengthy piece about the paper's involvement, he has admitted that the paper should have corrected its WMD stories not only by Judy Miller, long before they did, and now the paper has separated itself from Miller. But I hear critics saying, well, they should do more.
ROBERTS: Well, I think that "The Times" has tried very hard to follow the first rule in these matters. And that's transparency. If you...
KURTZ: Well, lately, perhaps. But they... ROBERTS: If you make a mistake, the first thing to do is tell your readers, here is everything we did wrong, and you can trust us in the future, that if we screw up again, we'll tell you again. Because that's essential to continue this bond of trust with your readers. So I think "The Times" has done it reasonably well.
But it took fits and starts do it. Among other things, it took them a whole year to admit that the WMD stories were wrong.
KURTZ: But it's the same way for some other news organizations. And I just wanted to put it in a little bit of perspective.
Just ahead, should "The Washington Post" have written about the CIA's use of secret prisons to interrogate al Qaeda suspects? We'll talk about that with our guests next.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Another CIA leak investigation? The CIA referred the latest leak to the Justice Department after "The Washington Post" disclosed two weeks ago that the agency was maintaining secret prisons in Eastern Europe to interrogate al Qaeda suspects.
At the urging of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a House committee is investigating the disclosure of classified information as well. But "The Post" is also drawing liberal flack for agreeing, at the request of senior U.S. officials, to withhold the location of those secret facilities.
"Post" reporter Dana Priest explained the paper's decision on MSNBC, the video of which is online.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA PRIEST, "WASHINGTON POST": Naming those countries could possibly result in terrorist retaliation, and that it could result in disruption of counterterrorism efforts between those countries if they were named. So we decided -- the executive editor here decided not to name those countries. And we didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: John Fund, secret CIA prisons overseas. Hard to imagine a more sensitive subject. Should "The Washington Post," my newspaper, have published that story?
FUND: Well, this is the tale of two leaks. In the first case, we have the CIA leak, and now we have this leak.
I'll make you a bet a year from now the amount of coverage of the investigation of this leak will be less than one-tenth than it was for the CIA leak.
KURTZ: Because? FUND: Because I think it falls into the general preconceptions of reporters. The CIA leak was about internal administration back stabbing, and it was a very sexy story. This will not be. A lot of it will be shrouded in mystery.
Remember, the same news organizations that tried to keep their reporters from going and testifying about the CIA leak also filed court documents saying there was no underlying crime in the CIA leak, as we now know from the special prosecutor. This is a great double standard.
KURTZ: Should "The Washington Post" have published the story?
ROBERTS: Absolutely. This is exactly why we use anonymous sources, exactly why we need a federal shield law, exactly why reporters have -- independence has to be preserved from zealous prosecutors, because this is the kind of story you can only get with anonymous sources, it's the kind of story that voters really need to know in order to hold their government accountable.
KURTZ: Even if in the opinion of some critics, particularly on the right, it hurts the U.S. war on terror?
ROBERTS: Yes, because this information is essential. However, I agree with Dana Priest and "The Post" not to publish the locations.
When we get reasonable requests from national security officials to withhold highly sensitive information, you've got to take them very seriously. I think the liberals are wrong to criticize "The Post" from withholding this information.
They saw the balance. I think they hit the right balance. Publish the story, withhold the most sensitive information.
KURTZ: But I talked to some liberals, Donatella Lorch, who say that by withholding that information at the request of senior administration officials, "The Post" is aiding and abetting terrorism.
LORCH: No. I think "The Post" is walking a very...
KURTZ: Not terrorism, but potentially abusive treatment of terrorist suspects.
LORCH: Well, the role of the news media has to hold the government accountable for what it's doing, for its policies. And therefore, I think what it's done here is very, very important and it's not a double standard.
But they're trying to walk this fine line right now, because the government puts everything it doesn't want out there under the umbrella of, oh, my god, we've got to keep it secret because of terrorism. And there is no way to analyze -- I mean, more and more is being kept secret. And the American public needs to know how to hold its government accountable.
FUND: In a month those countries are going to be identified publicly.
KURTZ: Well, actually, there are some news organizations that have identified them, at least according to the group Human Rights Watch.
You seem to be suggesting not just on the sexiness aspect, but that there is perhaps an ideological undertone here because the press was happy to go after the Bush administration over the outing of Valerie Plame, but doesn't see anything wrong with exposing the interrogation of al Qaeda suspects at these secret prisons. You seem to be suggesting there's a little bit of a press agenda here.
FUND: I think the secret prison story should have been reported. But we're now going to go to the second phase, which is who leaked it.
I'm simply saying, in a year, we'll come back and we'll find the coverage of this leak, which has far more national security implications than the CIA leak, because we now know there was no underlying crime and people knew it at the time, will be minuscule compared to the CIA leak.
KURTZ: Well, no underlying crime has been proven by Patrick Fitzgerald. But...
FUND: He's going to close up, and there will be no underlying...
KURTZ: John Fund could be wrong if, in fact, some leaker or leakers are identified. And then Dana Priest could find herself potentially in the same situation as Judith Miller. Do you testify about your confidential sources or risk going to jail?
ROBERTS: It's a very difficult and dangerous situation. When I saw that headline in your paper over your story, I think, which said "Criminal Charges Being Investigated," that just killed me, because when you criminalize the conversation between national security sources and journalists, it can have a terribly damaging effect.
KURTZ: It wasn't my story. But I've got about 20 seconds.
Are we seeing a trend here where more of our prosecutors are going to be demanding testimony from reporters under pain of imprisonment?
LORCH: I think, unfortunately, it is beginning. And I think it's very much because of this administration.
KURTZ: All right. Donatella Lorch, Steve Roberts, John Fund, thanks very much for an engaging conversation.
Coming up, our viewers talk back to CBS White House Correspondent John Roberts over his comments on White House spokesman Scott McClellan and the CIA leak.
KURTZ: We got lots of feedback on last week's show after I asked CBS's John Roberts whether White House spokesman Scott McClellan owes the press and the public for an apology for what turned out to be erroneous denials that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove had any involvement in the CIA leak case.
Here's what Roberts had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CBS NEWS: I think that he's a truth-teller. I think he's a standup guy. And I just think that he was told to carry somebody else's water. And it just turned out that that water was foul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Ann of Brainerd, Minnesota, wrote, "Since when is it the job of reporters to carry water for and vouch for the president's press secretary?"
Judy of Cleveland said, "This guy (McClellan), attacks reporters and accuses them of bias when his whole job is nothing but bias. Standup guy? Please."
And C. Crutchfield of Washington, D.C., wrote, "I think that if Mr. Roberts can't distinguish between a truth-teller and a liar, he need not be on RELIABLE SOURCES."
For the record, what John Roberts was trying to say was that Scott McClellan didn't deliberately lie or mislead but that he was given bad information by his colleagues.
When we come back, is it news or entertainment or something in between? A presidential debate goes Hollywood.
KURTZ: Who says television doesn't care about politics? NBC News devoted an hour of primetime this past week to a candidate debate moderated by veteran newsman Forrest Sawyer. There was even a Zogby Poll showing who won: Alan Alda over Jimmy Smits.
That's right, the whole live debate thing was just a stunt to create some buzz for "The West Wing," the NBC drama whose ratings have been headed the way of George Bush's. But if it was just a fake, scripted, orchestrated debate, why was the NBC News logo up there the whole time? Isn't that kind of low rent?
Or, in an age when Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and Anna Nicole Smith star in reality shows, can anyone tell the difference anymore?
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com