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Times editor chills Miller in letter to staff

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The editor of the New York Times yesterday accused reporter Judy Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to say who had told her the identity of a former covert C.I.A. operative, of misleading her bosses at the newspaper.

In a letter to his staff, Executive Editor Bill Keller admitted that he did not know that Miller had been on the receiving end of a whispering campaign by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

"As we reported last Sunday, Judy seems to have misled (editor) Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement," wrote Keller. "This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper."

Keller says that Taubman had tried to ascertain whether any other correspondents had been offered similar leaks.

Miller was a star reporter for the Gray Lady, known for her access to top-level Washington sources.

Miller wouldn't testify who revealed to her the identity of C.I.A. officer Valerie Plame, whose husband criticized Bush Administration claims that Iraq was buying uranium from Africa in order to build atomic weapons.

The Bush administration cited Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction as a major reason for the war.

The Times backed Miller's right to protect her sources all the way to the Supreme Court, publishing endless column-inches of editorials defending her.

Keller says he would do things differently now. "By waiting a year to own up to our own mistakes, we allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester. Worse, we fear, we fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers.

"I should have wondered why I was learning this from the special counsel a year after the fact," Keller wrote.

"If we had lanced the WMD boil earlier, we might have damped any suspicion that THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of a reporter above the duty to its readers."

Keller also says he did not press Miller hard enough when she was first subpoenaed in the leak investigation.

"I wish that when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed as a witness in the leak, investigation, I had sat down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of our own."

Miller said agreed to testify only after she had obtained a specific release from her source, and a pledge from special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald to limit his questioning to the role Libby played in blowing Plame's cover.

Plame is married to former ambassador Joe Wilson, who had raised crucial questions about the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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