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Miller gets a grilling from her colleagues

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Washington --- Fussing with her bangs, Judith Miller smiled sweetly Friday at the folks who crowded into a room at the National Press Club to see if she really is the villainess of American journalism.

It was not yet 10 a.m. and the very recently retired New York Times reporter had already endured a contentious interview on National Public Radio that came the morning after she defended herself on CNN's "Larry King Live."

On NPR, Miller was asked about speculation she had gone to jail for 85 days as "a career rehabilitation project" designed to get people's attention off questions about her reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war.

"Anyone who asserts that knows nothing about jail, nothing about me," Miller replied. "It was insulting and it was painful and it was untrue."

At the press club, a journalists' lair where the bar is named the Reliable Source, she faced more questions arising from the leaking of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller went to jail rather than reveal the identity of the alleged leaker: her confidential source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now, though, it is Libby who may face a prison sentence, having been indicted on charges of lying to a federal grand jury about what he told reporters. Miller left jail and testified before the grand jury only after a personal letter and phone call from Libby assuring her he had released her from her promise of confidentiality.

"I couldn't have walked out of jail without the ability to question Mr. Libby about his motives" in releasing her from her pledge, Miller said, appearing on a panel on "Journalists to Jail." She said she was convinced Libby wanted her to testify.

The story has since enveloped the 57-year-old reporter herself. The self-styled "Miss Run Amok" of The New York Times has been accused of bolstering the Bush administration's case for going to war by critics who note that Cheney cited her reporting when asserting that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.

"If your sources are wrong, you're going to be wrong," Miller admitted to National Public Radio. "You do the best you can to vet the information, and I was wrong. Some of those stories were wrong because they were based on faulty intelligence."

In a column headlined "Woman of Mass Destruction," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd accused Miller of being too willing to accept the administration line and too credulous about her sources. That hurt, said Miller, because Dowd had visited her in jail. Other colleagues joined in the sniping until it came to a dramatic end Wednesday.

"Judy Miller has retired from The New York Times effective today," wrote Bill Keller, the executive editor, in a staff memo announcing the abrupt end of the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter's 28-year career at the paper.

Keller also shared a letter he had written Miller.

"You are upset with me that I used the words 'entanglement' and 'engagement' in reference to your relationship with Scooter Libby. Those words were not intended to suggest an improper relationship. I was referring only to the series of interviews through which you --- and the paper --- became caught up in an epic legal controversy," Keller said.

The issue is sensitive because Miller has been romantically linked in the past with government officials, The Washington Post reported this week. She had relationships with Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), since deceased, and Richard Burt, a former Times colleague who joined the State Department. Miller is now married to Jason Epstein, a publisher and founder of The New York Review of Books.

"Mr. Keller is a very careful writer, and when he used the word 'entanglement' in a memo to the staff, I think it had unfortunate connotations that he now acknowledges," Miller said on CNN. "And he knows that was not true. I had nothing but a proper relationship with Mr. Libby. Scooter Libby was a source."

On Friday, Miller said she was "completely satisfied" with the terms of her departure.

"I wasn't driven out of The New York Times," she said. "I left The New York Times."

But she has not left the national spotlight.

In Libby's upcoming trial, Miller --- along with Tim Russert of NBC, Matt Cooper of Time magazine and possibly other journalists --- is almost certain to be called as a witness. And defense attorneys will probably demand much more information from the reporters than they have provided thus far.

They "gave limited testimony to the grand jury," said Michael Isakoff of Newsweek. "That's not going to cut it at the trial."

He predicted that Libby's lawyers would "go after e-mails and notes," which might provoke another conflict between the media and the courts.

Miller said The New York Times would continue to pay for her attorneys but that she hoped there wouldn't be a trial. But until the goes to court, she said, "The less I say about the specifics of this case, the happier my lawyers will be."

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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