Who Should Go?

The New York Times -- and specifically, Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. and reporter Judith Miller -- have come under fire not only for Miller's role in the CIA investigation of the Valerie Plame leak but for her reporting on Iraq, WMDs, and the Oil-for-Food scandal. Here, some of the top journalism professors in the country take on the following questions: Who should be fired -- Sulzberger or Miller? Neither? Or both?

Journalists should be investigated -- like everybody else

Judith Miller and her chain of bosses up to and including the publisher were derelict. She has never explained her misleading WMD coverage. "WMD -- I got it totally wrong," she said to Don Van Natta, Jr., Adam Liptak, and Clifford J. Levy. "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong." But not everyone's sources were wrong, and not every journalist was wrong. She owes her readers, and her employers, an explanation for her very grand, very consequential wrongness. And Bill Keller, who let her "kind of drift on her own" back into covering the weapons issues she'd been barred from, all the way over to the smearing of Joseph Wilson -- what about him? And Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who approved of the editorials declaring that the principle at stake in the Fitzgerald investigation was simple -- what about him? Journalists cannot go on claiming absolute exemption from criminal investigations as if that principle, all by itself, were holy writ.

--Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Blame the editors

The ultimate responsibility to keep a reporter in check lies with the editors. If any heads are going to roll, it should be the editors'.

--Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota

Blame the business of journalism

I may be alone in this, but I think this affair has done enormous good in illuminating the perils of a certain kind of journalism in which The New York Times has historically been heavily invested. The cozy to-and-fro between Miller and Libby -- "In what misleading way are we going to agree to describe you?" -- and the unspoken notion that source protection is more important than public enlightenment are routine pitfalls of such journalism. That said, I must also point out that Miller didn't actually do her sources' bidding in this case. Unlike Bob Novak, she never wrote about Valerie Plame Wilson, and in that respect, did nothing to advance the political reprisal that the CIA agent's exposure was intended to serve. Whom to fire? How can you possibly sack Miller for this fiasco when you kept her on the payroll after her catastrophic WMD coverage? She was trying to protect the privacy of conversations she viewed as private. She cut corners and made deals, carrying out precisely the kind of reporting that had earned her high honors and enormous regard within the Times.

Suddenly she's to be fired for this? You'd be better advised to look at the incentives, rewards and culture by which reporting efforts are guided, and make some real changes. As for Sulzberger, why fire him? He took a hand in this because nobody had the sense, or the guts, to keep him out. If newsroom leadership is the issue you need to look at the newsroom leaders. One of their most vital jobs is to keep their publishers from usurping their authority and making dumb decisions.

--Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA

Unanswered Questions

There are lots of things that are troubling. There's the lost notebook, [Scooter] Libby's letter to her. It makes you wonder, whose team is she on? Their team? Her own team? Maybe she's saving the best material for her book and letting the paper take the flack for her. You might think she has her own agenda. In any case, the paper has to ask probing questions about what's in The Times' best interest and her own best interest.

--Alexander Stille, San Paolo Professor of International Journalism, Columbia University

Leave Judy Alone

Neither. Judith acted courageously and the Times gave her the support any journalist in a similar predicament would need.

--Bob Zelnick Chairman, Boston University journalism department

No Wonder Nobody Trusts Us

The question here is not whether Judith Miller or The Times' publisher should be fired. The question is how the entire journalism establishment in this country followed Judith Miller and The New York Times down the inglorious path of what we consider to be journalists' inviolable right to protect a source -- no matter how scurrilous that source's intent may be. Judith Miller was not protecting a whistleblower. She was protecting a mudslinger, going so far as to agree to a duplicitous and misleading not-for-attribution identification of Scooter Libby as a "former Hill staffer." This was the height of cynicism. Miller protected Libby while he dumped on Joseph Wilson. As an editor, I would without question talk to a reporter for such an action. On a second offense, I'd discipline the reporter and put him or her on notice that a third such case could be a fireable offense. If this is the norm in Washington, the news media don't deserve the trust of the 25 percent or so of the public who believe the press to be credible. And such practices say a whole lot about why the credibility of the press has fallen as low as it has. Clearly reporters need to keep their word to protect sources who can only come forward under the anonymity of source relationships or risk losing their job or some other form of retribution. But the whole concept of source relationships becomes perversely distorted if anonymity is used to take potshots at someone the source doesn't like. My old editor at the San Jose Mercury News instituted a policy against such relationships and such quotes. And he was right.

--Jerry Lanson, Associate Professor, Department of Journalism, Emerson College

Worse Than Stephen Glass

The fact that she went to jail and didn't stay in jail has done more to set back the cause of journalism than 100 Stephen Glasses. You can't cop out after 80-something days. It shows prosecutors that we will cave if you throw us in jail, and that is truly a disaster for journalists. Her source was already outed in the Matthew Cooper segment of the fiasco; she didn't have to go to jail, so it's hard not to assume that she wasn't just grandstanding. There was really no need for her to go to jail. What was also remarkable: I have never seen a newspaper run an inside story which really didn't tell us what happened but instead focused on the dissension within The New York Times.

--Adam L. Penenberg, Assistant Professor, Journalism, New York University



Compiled by The American Prospect staff

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