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New York Times reporter Miller "retired"

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After weeks of negotiations, embattled New York Times reporter Judy Miller "retired" from the paper of record, effective yesterday.

In a "Farewell Letter" posted on her Web site last night and appearing in today's editions of The Times, Miller said, "I have chosen to resign because over the last few months, I have become the news, something a New York Times reporter never wants to be."

The handwriting was on the wall for Miller as early as last week, when Executive Editor Bill Keller told top editors that Miller would not return to the paper as a reporter.

In an Oct. 21 memo to Times staff, Keller wote that he wished he had known about Miller's "entanglement" with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who has since been indicted and has pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice.

Yesterday, in an unprecedented move announcing that Miller had retired, Keller also attached a personal "Dear Judy" memo that he had sent to Miller.

"I know you've been distressed by the memo I sent to the staff about things I wish I'd done differently in the course of this ordeal," Keller wrote to Miller.

Keller said in the memo that "Judy participated in some great, prize-winning journalism. She displayed fierce determination and personal courage both in pursuit of the news and in resisting assaults on the freedom of news organizations to report."

Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to divulge that Libby had been a confidential source.

Libby faces five criminal counts for his role in the illegal leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to Miller and others.

Miller also wrote a number of now-discredited front page stories about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in the run up to the Iraq war and shared a Pulitzer Prize in the wake of 9/11 for reporting on international terrorism.

In her letter, Miller acknowledged, "I had become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war."

"Most of all, "she added, "I want to thank those colleagues who stood by me after I was criticized on these pages."

In the end, she managed to alienate many of her colleagues with her flawed WMD reporting, and more recently over her role in the Bush administration's outing of CIA agent Plame.

Rather than protecting a whistle-blower exposing wrongdoing, Miller was cast in the unenviable position of protecting Libby. Her support in the Times newsroom rapidly eroded.

Keller visited Miller in prison and welcomed her back to the newsroom.

But relations soon turned sour, as Times reporters investigated Miller's account of her relations with Libby. On Oct. 21, Keller wrote his staff that Miller appeared to have "misled" some of her editors, including Jill Abramson, the co-managing editor and one-time Washington bureau chief.

Then Times columnist Maureen Dowd, a close friend of Abramson's, launched a public spat, railing against Miller in a column and all but calling for her to be fired.

Miller's forced departure casts another shadow over Times Publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr., her longtime friend and protector, as internal strife at the paper surrounded her.

"I think it is incalculably damaging," said David Halberstam, a former Timesman and author of "The Powers that Be," a history of the newspaper.

Miller, he said, was "caught in a web that she has spun herself."

But even as negotiations over Miller's exit dragged on last week, Sulzberger apparently still hoped to find a way to keep her.

After Miller was "retired," the Times newsroom breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"I don't think most people thought there was any other way for this to end," said one newsroom source.

"It has been painful to watch," said another newsroom insider.

It marks the second major black mark in two years for Sulzberger. Then, Sulzberger had been forced to oust his hand-picked executive editor Howell Raines in the wake of the Jayson Blair serial fabrication scandal.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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