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October 02, 2005

NY TimesWatch: The Plot Thins....

The Judy Miller Saga bids fair to replace hair-pulling classics like The Jerry Springer Show and ElimaDate on the half-vast editorial staff's list of Things Entertaining. Just when we thought our Credulity Meter was pegged, the NY Times produces Dueling Letters for our amusement. On September 15th, Scooter Libby writes to The Imprisoned Damsel:

A few days ago your counsel, Mr. Bennett, requested that I repeat for you the waiver that I specifically gave to your counsel over a year ago. His request surprised me, but I am pleased to comply if it will speed your return.

I was surprised at the request because my counsel had reassured yours well over a year ago that I had voluntarily waived confidentiality of discussion we may have had, if any, related to the Wilson-Plame matter. As you know, in January 2004 I waived the privilege for the purpose of allowing certain reporters identified by the Special Counsel to testify before the Grand Jury about the Wilson-Plame matter. The Special Counsel identified every reporter with whom I had spoken about anything in July 2003, including you. My counsel then called counsel for each of the reporters, including yours, and confirmed that my waiver was voluntary. Your counsel reassured us that he understood this, that your stand was one of principle or was otherwise unrelated to us, and that there was nothing more we could do. In all the months since, we have never heard otherwise from anyone, until your new counsel's request just a few days ago.

Miller's former counsel, Floyd Abrams, shoots back:

It is certainly true, as your letter suggests, that there were several factors which led Ms. Miller to conclude that she could not testify before the grand jury consistent with her journalistic principles.

Abrams goes on to deny he ever said "there was nothing more Libby could do" or that he assured them he understood Libby's waiver was voluntary. The truly interesting question remains: what made Ms. Miller, alone of all the reporters named in Libby's waiver, unwilling to believe he was competent to waive his right to confidentiality? If she was unwilling to believe it then, why should she suddenly believe it now, when there is far more pressure on his boss to fire him? What makes a letter or a phone call more "voluntary" than a legal document? All three can be "coerced".

Beldar's take is priceless:

But comes now Judith Miller of the New York-bleeping-Times, who goes prominently on record as saying, in so many words: "Never mind what my source says. I — the journalist, the goddess of the press — have the sole and absolute right to decide whether my source's waiver was or was not 'coerced.'" Because that was and still is Judith Miller's very clear position — not just that there had to be a waiver, and that it had to be voluntary and uncoerced, but that only she could decide whether it was voluntary or coerced.

(Leave aside for the moment that her apparent standard for "coercion" and "voluntariness" is unique, arbitrary, and absolutely contrary to law. The fact that Mr. Libby's waiver may have been motivated, in whole or in part, by a desire to avoid some bad consequence, e.g., being fired, does not invalidate his decision. If that were true, there could never be a valid guilty plea, for instance. If that were true, you could freely breach every contract by claiming, "Oh, well, I was coerced into breaking my promise because I suddenly realized it would be disadvantageous to me to keep it.")

Just on its face, that's an incredibly insulting position to take. That's equivalent to Judith Miller saying: "Scooter Libby is drunk, retarded, or otherwise incapable of making a rational, binding decision on his own, and his lawyer is too damned stupid, unethical, and unprofessional to recognize that and do anything about it. Whatever they say, it doesn't count." In fact, it's hard for me to imagine a more self-righteously patronizing and repugnant position that she could have taken.

And now she blames Libby and his lawyers for not going out of their way to explain to her that she was acting stupidly?

Please. Bring me the world's smallest violin.

And that's the crux of the matter. Her sudden capitulation makes no sense. Jack Shafer has a theory that might explain it though:

What's more likely is that Miller was tiring of jail after her 12-week stay—and who wouldn't be?— and that she conveniently "rediscovered" Libby's offer once Fitzgerald threatened her anew with criminal contempt charges, obstruction of justice, and extension of the grand jury, which could have given her 18 months more to stew in her cell. One clue that I might be right: Miller's former attorney Abrams, a charming man who returns phone calls, did not return the Post's. He also declined to discuss the question of the year-old waiver with reporters covering the story for the New York Times, his sometime employer.

If Abrams isn't talking, there's much, much more to say, and I think we can say it for him. Judith Miller surrendered her ballyhooed principles yesterday and called it victory. The real winner for anybody with eyes to read a newspaper is Patrick Fitzgerald.

More and more this tempest in a teapot spins farther and farther into irrelevance. Like Seinfeld, this is a Case About Nothing: a conspiracy theory that makes no sense. We have an administration supposedly out to "discredit" a pompous whistleblower who was already about to be publicly discredited by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (though, as it turned out, not in the media) for lying about "what he learned in Africa".

We have the "exposure" of his wife, who, as it now seems, wasn't really a covert agent and seems to have told several neighbors who she worked for as she drove, quite publicly, through the front gates of Langley each day to work.

We have a "brave and principled" journalist who went to jail to "protect" a source who didn't want to be protected for a crime that hadn't been committed.

We close with Scooter Libby's affecting plea to Miller. Perhaps this is what, at long last, changed her mind and made her give up those late-night Snickers breaks and her quixotic quest for martyrdom in the Alexandria detention center?

You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover — Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work — and life.

Until then, you will remain in my thoughts and prayers.

With admiration,

Lewis Libby

CWCID: JustOneMinute for the Shafer link.

Posted by Cassandra at October 2, 2005 09:26 AM

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That is the way a gentleman writes to a lady. It is not, so far as I know, still taught in any school: there are no instructors left to teach it, unless they are Sir Walter Scott and Chesterton. [Read More]

Tracked on October 2, 2005 05:02 PM


What's with the "thoughts and prayers" crap from Scooter? He should have ended his letter more appropriately:
"Listen you self-unctious "martyr" for a free press, I told you more than a year ago that you could sing Gregorian chants from now until election day and you still wouldn't have a story. You want to stay locked up? Fine with me. Just remember that when the truth finally comes out you and your paper are going to become laughingstocks in the media.


Posted by: spd rdr at October 2, 2005 12:05 PM

One doesn't expect someone with the nickname of "Scooter" to prove to have the style and manners of a gentleman. What a fine and generous letter.

Posted by: Grim at October 2, 2005 04:48 PM

Reading those last lines called to mind one of my favorite movies (click my name for video)

Lord knows, I hold no brief for Miller either spd. I've mocked her mercilessly because I think she's a hypocrite :)

But sometimes I can't help wondering if it isn't better to just put down the knives. If Libby has the grace to do that, I applaud him. He's a better man than I (well, actually he'd have to be, wouldn't he?)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 2, 2005 07:12 PM

Don't apologize for the sentiment. You are right to feel as you do. It was well and nobly said. It is entirely proper to commend it.

Posted by: Grim at October 2, 2005 08:27 PM

For all I know, Cass, Scooter meant what he said. But if it was me in their cross-hairs, I'd be less forgiving.

Posted by: spd rdr at October 3, 2005 07:20 AM

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