The Times’ Rather

Judy Miller is The Times’ Dan Rather and she will — or should — force an era of reexamination and reinvention on the paper just as Rather brought it on his network.

She should be the slap that comes before the slapped says, ‘Thanks, I needed that.’

Jayson Blair wasn’t The Times’ Rather, only a coincidental scandal that led to just more silly rules about datelines and such that won’t stop liars from lying.

But Miller, like Rather, had the support of her editors and her institution — and no small proportion of her profession — and it is that blind, deaf, and dumb stubborn support that now must cause them to change their worldview, their relationship with the public, their pressthink. Listen to CBS’ Andrew Heyward, who now recognizes, post-Rather, that the age of omniscience is over, that there is no single truth from the mountaintop, that we must reveal the perspectives we already have, that journalism must change its voice (read: its relationship with its public). That is step one: reexamination. Now Heyward must embark on the harder work: reinvention.

How should The Times undertake this? I made a few suggestions below (and keep in mind that I do not consult to the paper or the newsroom; this is free advice and will be taken as such) but let me add:

If the paper is having trouble reporting on itself — and it is — then invite others in to report on it: even competitors, even bloggers, those you most dread if you think you own the pedestal. So let Howard Kurtz and Jay Rosen and, yes, Arianna Huffington in the door or welcome them in when they come knocking (whom else do you nominate?). Don’t create a selected, stuffed-shirt, spineless commission, as CBS did. Don’t just dissect the past but the present and the future and why we think like we think and how we can and should change that. Tell everyone on the paper that they may not hide behind anonymity and are expected to speak to these people because they represent the public and you must not hide from them. Make it clear that no one will suffer for this. Breed openness. Value honesty.

Next, recognize the Gillmorism that your public knows more than you do and demonstrate that. In fact, that would be good business. The public served by The Times is, indeed, a smart and powerful bunch. So make it a goal to gather and share that wisdom. This was a start. But do more: Make your staff continue that dialogue with the few proxies invited in; open it up to the world. When those darned bloggers question your WMD stories, get into a conversation about it. Don’t sit and wait and stonewall as if you can. We journalists, of all people, should remember that it’s the coverup that gets you and silence in the face of questions is a coverup. So, yes, you can guess what I’ll suggest: Have reporters blog so they can enter that conversation. Find a new voice that is authentic by talking with the people you serve. Take the questions and facts and words of the public and find more ways to put that in the paper. Don’t just be a pile of dead words on paper; try to put yourself back into the town square, into the center of the community, into the conversation that’s happening around you, if you can.

Next, above all, recognize that you are not perfect (how could you be?) and you are not the record (for the record is never done recording). This is not about admitting mistakes when forced to. It goes so far as to admit mistakes before you make them so you think to ask for help from your wise public to get stories right: What should we ask the mayor because we get the chance? What are the politicians and pundits missing in their nonefforts to fix health care? What did we miss in that story we just wrote.

We forgot that journalism is about learning, not teaching. We go out to try to learn what’s happening and why. We are supposed to listen, not lecture. We should be part of the community, not apart from it. So don’t look upon this as prosecution but as a lesson. Learn it in public. Make this your Dan Rather moment. Make this your opportunity to learn and change.

  • Ravo

    Will bloggers tame it…..or slay it?

    The MSM’s Drooling Beast

    http://www.reasons4rage.com/Esy_Kirkland_Revelations.html

  • http://www.susanreynolds.com Susan Reynolds

    Great job on the show this AM, Jeff! You were clear, focused, and didn’t take yourself too seriously.

    In fact, you made your fellow bloggers look good – especially in comparison to “journalists” and the other more traditional media. I for one appreciate anything that is done to give us a little credibility, even if my blog is one of those “Life in the Arts” kind of things that takes on less serious subjects.

    Bravo!

  • somerville

    JI think there are a lot of similarities between Jayson Blair had the backing and support of all the top editors at the paper. He was considered to be a rising star, and in many cases there was a hands off approach to him. It was as if they were afraid of him. Sounds to me like the Times has a star system. One set of rules for the stars, and another set for everybody else.

  • somerville

    Oops. Meant say ” a lot of similarities between Jayson Blair and Judith Miller. They both had the backing and support of all the top editors at the paper…….

  • http://www.elflife.com/cgi-bin/txt.cgi/ Carson Fire

    But didn’t Miller acknowledge that she was wrong on WMD? Also, I have yet to see a shred of evidence that her journalism was tainted by a right wing bias — just the sayso of a lot of people who have a vested interest in making her a scapegoat regardless of her real personal politics.

    I have no love for Miller, but Rathergate differed greatly in that it encompassed using material provided by a partisan in order to fuel an election year attack and then refusing — to this day! — to acknowledge that the report was based on forgeries. The comparable charge is that Miller was working for the Bush administration! I’m sorry, I still find that charge incredible. The only real *facts* presented have been that she’s a relatively pushy, obnoxious, and independent reporter; a loose cannon.

    If she was wrong on a particular issue in itself is not proof of bias or conspiracy. It could simply be incompetence. The same could not be said of Rather.

    If anything, we see the press — not just Miller, but the whole of traditional media — getting worse and worse at simply reporting their opinions and unfounded speculations (sometimes no more than wishful thinking) as fact. And I’m not talking about Dowd and Krugman; it’s getting difficult to tell the difference between editorialists and AP reports.

  • Jane

    I’m not clear on how Judith Miller tribulations mirror Dan Rather’s fiasco. Ms. Miller’s sources, the White House, the State Dept., the intelligence agencies, her experience as an embedded journalist in Iraq differ markedly from Mary Mapes reliance on forged document obtained from a single, less than credible witness. My memory may be incorrect but I seem to recall that Porter Goss will not publicly review why the CIA or Tenant’s leadership failed in its determination that Iraq possessed WMD.

    Ms. Miller should be hung out to dry only if it can be established that she pulled a Duranty – in that she willfully did not report what she had personally witnessed in order to curry favors with her sources. My problem with Judith Miller’s reporting is similar to my problem with the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh. I don’t trust the gatekeepers, the editors, to fully vet, corroborate or challenge the sources. I begrudgingly read them both because as Mr. Heyward acknowledges, there is no single truth.

  • John

    I think the more interesting thing is the anger both outside and inside of the Times towards Miller among those in the journalism industry are far more on-the-record than they were in the Jayson Blair case, where most of the pressure came from bloggers and conservative pundits. That may be due to whose ox was being gored — some of Blair’s stories, including those about the D.C. sniper case, painted those who the big media types normally don’t have much love for in a bad light, so that when they were proven to be fraudlent, it went against their world view. On the other hand, Miller’s errors on WMD went in favor of what the Bush Administration was saying, so that when no weapons were eventually found, those already angry with Bush transposed some of their anger over to Judith, under “a friend of my enemy…” theory.

    That doesn’t make her actions right, it’s just interesting to note that while Jeff and a few others have been consistent in criicizing both reporters, the main sources of anger over Blair’s errors and the main sources of anger over Miller’s mistakes come in general from two different locations.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    I would say the parallel is in making a journalistic mistake by being insufficiently skeptical of a partisan source telling the journalist what that journalist wants to hear. In Miller’s case, it was Ahmed Chalabi (who wanted to be the next ruler of Iraq) and WMD’s.

    But how would blogs or “conversation” make any difference at all? It’s not as if everyone involved didn’t know Chalabi’s agenda. Someone could have screamed at Miller : “HE’S TELLING YOU THAT FALSE WMD STORY BECAUSE HE WANTS TO RULE IRAQ” – and she wouldn’t listen. Similarly, experts told Mapes *beforehand* that the Guard memos were not likely authentic (this is in the CBS investigation). It didn’t help.

    In fact, too much “conversation” causes people to shut it all off, since the noise is overwhelming – perhaps another key parallel!

  • Tomas Insausti

    Sir,
    Utterly out of focus. You propose that the New York Times, being unable to address their own mistakes, should invite third parties to tackle them. I believe you are nothing but an opportunistic rascal, trying to favour your own cause.
    You are not the NYTimes, and none of the bloggers you suggested are.
    If the NYTimes wants to correct, they might do so, or not. If they don’t, and the public perceives they are procastrinating, guess they’ll be punished in the most hurtful of viscera: the pocket.
    So: state your point, stop advocating as you usually do for the rest of the world and allow private enterprise to follow their due course, or die.
    Regards,
    Tomás Insausti
    tomasinsausti@mac.com

  • Daniel Freedman

    A more apt comparison might be to Kurt Waldheim. You may recall that a comprehenisive investigation showed that Waldheim probably wasn’t a Nazi.

    But Waldheim was a venal oppurtunist determined to prevent the war from interfering with his career advancement. Waldheim succeeded — then lied about what he’d done. And his “employer” (Austria) did not at first respond well to the revelations. Sound familiar?
    – Daniel Freedman
    Danfreedmn@earthlink.net

  • ZF

    This analogy won’t fly for a simple reason.

    Dan Rather was operating at the center of the CBS machine as its iconic representative, cheered on as he attacked Bush by virtually everybody who worked there. Naturally when it turned out publicly that his (and their) connection to reality had been severed for some time it called into question the operation and practices of the entire CBS organization.

    Judy Miller it now appears was (on WMD) working as a rogue individual, ‘off the reservation’ both in terms of her journalistic practices and in failing to provide support for the anti-Bush ideology espoused by her colleagues at the NYT.

    The more likely organizational reaction in this case, it seems to me, is such a sharp rejection of Miller (seen Dowd yet?) that in future NYT journalists are going to be even less likely to risk the smallest divergence from the paper’s ‘party line’. The organization is already concluding that with Miller it didn’t enforce conformity effectively enough, not that it should spend more time listening to divergent views.

    Just see if I’m not right over the coming year.

  • http://www.laurencehaughton.com laurence haughton

    Seth Finkelstein makes a great point. “…the parallel is in making a journalistic mistake by being insufficiently skeptical of a partisan source telling the journalist what that journalist wants to hear.”

    The problem for news organizations is that the incentives for being “sufficiently skeptical” are not strong enough to overcome human nature.

    Being “sufficiently skeptical” requires the nerve to confront disconfirming evidence – data that questions or contradicts one’s existing opinions and the opinions of close collegues.

    It takes the guts to risk your position and popularity by bringing up disconfirming evidence. As the old maxim says “The truthful man is chased from ten villages.”

    Honestly once a journalist has enjoyed the perks and paycheck of popularity who can blame them if they unwilling to get “chased out” of the village.

  • http://theheretik.typepad.com/the_heretik/ The Heretik

    Tina Brown’s Stasi legion of baying bloggers stab at the Times with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast. Last thing the Times remembers, they were headed for the door, trying to make it back to the place they all were before.

    The New York Times is hopeless, from Give Me Just a Pinch Sulzberger on down to King Dong Keller. Oy.

  • lonesome loon

    Dan Blather how dose he feel to have opened his mouth and inserted his foot?

  • APF

    Oh lonesome loon… thanks for making us laugh at love, once again.

  • djangone

    Hardly a parallel.

    Rather made a mistake regarding supporting materials in a story about Bush’s NG service which was in all other regards entirely true–Bush did avoid VN service. All the reading regarding some kind of ‘bias’ in this are blather and exaggeration, and you know it, Jeff.

    Judith Miller, we don’t know about yet. You and other commenters want to speculate, fine. Here’s some speculation: she traded favors with Libby and others in the WH–special privileges, special scoops, special treatment as an embed during the War, in return for her uncritical regurgitation on the front page of the NYTimes of whatever garbage they fed her. She was, unwitting or not, their mouthpiece. Her Pulitzer, her close friendship with Pinch and the newness of Keller served to allow her free rein to dispense with the most fundamental journalistic principles.

    The people who were feeding her had no principles. Through her, they coopted the imprimateur of the NYTimes in the selling of the worst strategic blunder in the history of the United States.

    So let’s see–served as a mouthpiece that was key to selling a war, or used bad source material in a report that was fundamentally true?

    Case not even close. Miller’s situation is massively more pertinent to both the future of this country and the future of journalism.

    Rather is just your basic scapegoat of the brain-dead right, a carcass they like to haul out and claim they felled with their spitballs. Read a little Hinderaker (remember him? the Rather-slayer?) these days and see how essentially dishonest these idiots are.

  • kat

    djangone-you sound like a true brainwashed disciple of leftwing msm–anyone with a non-leftist view is an idiot or brain dead and Rather’s crap was true but false…must be cause you’re brain dead left.

  • http://www.elflife.com/cgi-bin/txt.cgi/ Carson Fire

    Rather made a mistake regarding supporting materials in a story about Bush’s NG service which was in all other regards entirely true–Bush did avoid VN service.

    Only a very partisan reading of Bush’s history (i.e., the version the MoveOn.org faction is committed to) definitively arrives at that conclusion based on the real facts. It just isn’t enough to make little fists, close your eyes real tight, and wish for reality to match the stories you and your friends tell each other.

    Once again (for the umpteenth time), WMD was not formerly a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike relied on potentially faulty evidence about a region we did not have direct access to and a ruler that we did not trust. On the other hand, the “Bush used the National Guard to evade Vietnam” story is dependent on 1) a highly biased view that service in the National Guard is automatically an evasion of Vietnam, 2) ignoring factual material that conflict with the idea of a draft-dodging Bush, and 3) the comic belief that anybody but cranky Democrats BLOODY CARES if Bush evaded Vietnam (this is the biggie, really) in light of the fact that the issue of draft dodging by a presidential candidate was settled by the election of Bill Clinton. The public at large understands the Vietnam era, and have no wish to rehash it and punish people for following their conscience during that troubling time. Vietnam-era draft evasion is a complete non-issue, unless of course you have extenuating circumstances like somebody claiming to be a big hero when they didn’t even serve. We have not had such a candidate, yet, though; the left only fantasizes that this is the Bush situation because they were repulsed by the sight of him in a flight suit.

    WMD was faulty reporting that embarrassed many; the Bush MIA story is a political vendetta that has embarrassed no one, and is to this day desperately pursued by tedious nuts despite the fact that nobody nobody nobody cares. Nobody cared if Clinton evaded the draft save some Republican grousers; nobody cared if Bush evaded the draft save some Democratic grousers; nobody really cared if Kerry was a war hero or not — that was actually a wash, which was why it was so easy for the Swift Boaters to emphasize the suspicious aspects of his war stories (and it was only Kerry’s insistence on making the Vietnam War a campaign issue that opened up this avenue of attack — the MIA story could never gain traction because Bush never claimed that his service was relevant. This fact seems to only fuel the manic despair on the left to keep harping on “MIA” Bush).

    You may believe that gathering information from officials of an elected administration is suspect, but that at least carries some weight. Elected officials *should* be consulted, and their stories should be corroborated or challenged by other credible sources. Rather definitively joined the ranks of the tedious nuts, not by virtue of the truthfulness of his story one way or another, but hanging an election year smear all on easily debunked documents faxed to him from a Kinko’s by a partisan Texas crank.

  • djangone

    Okay, Carson, if the draft story was no big deal, then Jeff’s point about there being any kind of comparison between Rather and Miller is shot. I know it’s hard to keep on subject when someone challenges the right’s mythology of that, you know, massive Rather-slaying, but there we go, it only took a sentence to get you back in line.

    The WMD stories were an ‘embarrassment,’ eh? That’s what you call error-riddled reporting that led us to the dumbest war in US history? The term ‘historic scandal’ is a little closer to fact, unless by some gymnastic headupassery you’re one of those righties who doesn’t yet understand that what’s going on is nothing less than the self-castration of the largest bulls in the Bush Administration. This should be a good week for you to come to a new understanding of the depths of malice, incompetence, dishonesty and flat-out treason perpetuated by the people the right lied so hard to elect. We knew it all along, but hey, never let us say we told you so.

    As for your final breathless paragraph in which you tax the lethal power of italicization–yep, Rather made a mistake. Hey, whattayaknow! Nobody defends him, surprise surprise! It was a small point in an election filled with bigger issues. The WMD stories were a major part of getting us into a war. If you see any kind of parity there, let me know.

  • erg


    Dan Rather was operating at the center of the CBS machine as its iconic representative, cheered on as he attacked Bush by virtually everybody who worked there. Naturally when it turned out publicly that his (and their) connection to reality had been severed for some time it called into question the operation and practices of the entire CBS organization.

    Well, someone has been delinked from reality for a while, clearly.

    The outside investigation of CBS found sloppy journalistic practices in a rush to media (largely by Mapes). It also found Rather all too trusting of Mapes, a star producer for him (Rather himself just back from covering hurricanes in Florida had no time to dig into the story in any detail), and it found several of CBS’s practices of vetting being ignored or weak. Of course, I can see why wingnuts want to claim that CBS was indeed dedicated to bringing Bush down.


    Judy Miller it now appears was (on WMD) working as a rogue individual, ‘off the reservation’ both in terms of her journalistic practices and in failing to provide support for the anti-Bush ideology espoused by her colleagues at the NYT.

    Translation: “The Times published half a dozen articles, all of which turned out to be wrong, on WMDs in IRaq. They gave a lot of coverage to an issue that the Bush administration claimed was its main reason for invading Iraq. But since I am a wingnut who cannot consider the possibility that the NYTimes, like all the media, does not publish every article with a view to attacking Bush, I will claim she was acting as a lone wolf without the paper’s support”.

    The fact is that in actuality, both Miller and Mapes were given too much leeway by their bosses (because they had been stars in the past). This leads to Mapes bizarre willingness to realize that Burkett had fed her frauds, and Miller’s equally bizarre articles (remember the article the Times published about the man in the baseball cap who pointed out WMDs buried in the desert and claimed that they had ben Al Qaeda). In Mapes case, it was only one show, it Miller’s case, it was a dozen articles over a year.

    One thing that is different is the impact. Even if the fraud had not been revealed, the Rather memos would at worst have been a story about 30 year old events. In Miller’s case, her stories contributed to settign the climate for a war, for 2000 American dead, for several hundred billion dolllars in expenses.

  • erg


    That doesn’t make her actions right, it’s just interesting to note that while Jeff and a few others have been consistent in criicizing both reporters, the main sources of anger over Blair’s errors and the main sources of anger over Miller’s mistakes come in general from two different locations.

    One need hardly point out that the Miller case is a far more serious affair than Blair’s prevarications, which had no influence on national policy at all.

  • erg


    Once again (for the umpteenth time), WMD was not formerly a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike relied on potentially faulty evidence about a region we did not have direct access to and a ruler that we did not trust.

    Once again (for the umpteenth time), the Bush administration’s alarmist rhetoric went well beyond what we knew or even suspected of IRaq’s WMD programme.


    On the other hand, the “Bush used the National Guard to evade Vietnam” story is dependent on 1) a highly biased view that service in the National Guard is automatically an evasion of Vietnam, 2) ignoring factual material that conflict with the idea of a draft-dodging Bush,

    The Bush used the National Guard to evade Vietnam” story is dependent on 1) the general knowledge that serving in the National Guard at that time was a way to evade Vietnam and that Colin Powell’s book critcizes such
    people heavily. Everyone knows that except revisionists.

    2) Bush’s own statement that he didn’t want to go Vietnam. This is indisputable (except to wingnuts, again).

    The only dispute is whether Bush served his last year fully or not, and whether any political pull was used to get him plum spots in the NG. If I had to guess, I would say probably not, and very likely yes. I dont regard it as a big issue in any case.

  • owl

    The last thing I would argue would be Rathergate. If you can’t recognize the type of a 1970 typewriter from a printer sheet, you are too young to even discuss it. One point you might have forgotten and I mention it to point to agenda…..Mapes/Rather only worked on this “story” for years…..and years……and years……and years….You are probably forgetting the little fact that they needed it to stop him from becoming TX Gov. Years……and years……and years…… and bang!! Computer memos………fake but accurate. Okay, so I will argue it. But it’s just too easy. Even the dead man’s wife and son called it lies. Geesshh.. Candy from a baby…….

    Miller should be the slap? Whoa…they already. Now they are just beating the dead horse. NYT has problems but it didn’t start nor stop with Miss Judy.

    I did my rant and what I want to know on comments under “Dowd”. This roasting of Miss Judy is just an extension of an agenda. Handy.

  • http://www.elflife.com/cgi-bin/txt.cgi/ Carson Fire

    djangone Says: Okay, Carson, if the draft story was no big deal, then Jeff’s point about there being any kind of comparison between Rather and Miller is shot.

    Um… right. That’s exactly what I’m saying, I think Jeff’s comparison is wrong. The draft story is no big deal, yet Rather used dodgy materials to try to prove it, even using his clout to bump what was actually a more important and relevant (and better substantiated story) in order to get his MIA story on air before the election. The only motive behind pushing such a flimsy story is to smear the subject. Miller’s reporting, on the other hand, involved a huge, important, and complicated issue, and I have yet to see any evidence or credible argument put forward to demonstrate why she would do this to promote a war or defend a right-wing administration — this has been all speculation so far as I can see. Even if Miller was sympathetic to the administration’s position, that’s still a far cry from trying to destroy a partisan enemy.

    So I find it odd that you suggest I’m speculating… what exactly am I speculating about? I am saying just the opposite: I see a lot of speculation built on clouds, and I’m simply waiting for somebody to actually *show* me something about Miller’s motives, apart from paragraphs of the same old left-wing, meaningless drivel: dumbest war ever!!! “Dumbest war ever” is not a fact, no more so than if I said “bestest war ever!” That’s nothing but emotional squawk.

    I stand by the WMD reporting/intelligence as a mere embarrassment, because it is distortion by the left that demands that the Iraq war was about nothing but WMD. The roots of the movement were in Saddam’s actual and non-disputable flouting of cease-fire agreements and a strategy (agree with it or no) that Saddam thus presents the US with an opportunity to affect change in that already-troubled region. Take away WMD, and the original reasons for the war remain. WMD mutated not out of the revisionist “hyping” of the war by the Bush administration, but constant challenges from Democrats and the UN to provide more and more rationalizations for a invasion that they both opposed.

  • Jane

    remember the article the Times published about the man in the baseball cap who pointed out WMDs buried in the desert

    Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert – April 21, 2003

    “The Americans said the scientist told them that President Saddam Hussein’s government had destroyed some stockpiles of deadly agents as early as the mid-1990’s, transferred others to Syria, and had recently focused its efforts instead on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.”

    It makes you wonder about the recent request of Syria to adopt the “Khadaffi Model.”

    Has anyone written any follow up articles on the MET Alpha team?

  • David Bennett

    In my opinion the NYT and other papers could roll through the net if they simply attached a comments section at the bottom of every article. They would become a center of discussion on everything from local traffic lights to national stories. Ideally linkable comments.