The New York Times announced Wednesday that correspondent Judith Miller, who went to jail for 85 days rather than divulge a source in the CIA leak investigation, had resigned, effective immediately.
Miller had become a contentious figure in journalism, both for her actions in the leak case and for her reporting on Iraqi weapons programs in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although editors at the Times had hailed her for going to jail to protect a source, the paper’s highest-ranking editor had also challenged some of her actions in the leak case, and the paper had publicly criticized her prewar reporting.
In a letter to be published in the paper today, Miller wrote: “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.” A portion of the letter appeared on the paper’s website Wednesday.
Miller served more jail time than any other American reporter but was eventually freed after agreeing to testify to a federal grand jury in the leak case, saying that her source, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had given her an unambiguous waiver to do so.
Libby was later indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to investigators looking into who leaked the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to journalists. The indictment forced Libby to resign as the vice president’s chief of staff.
In the letter to be published today as part of a severance agreement, Miller says that she is leaving the paper partly because colleagues disagreed with her decision to testify in the leak case, but mainly because she had become a figure in the news.
Miller was often in the news throughout a 28-year career at the paper. She specialized in foreign reporting, cultivating a circle of high-profile contacts in the Middle East. In 1983, the Times made her the first woman to head one of its foreign bureaus when it named her bureau chief in Cairo.
Miller was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for examining the threats posed by global terrorism.
In the run-up to the war in Iraq, she and colleague Michael R. Gordon quoted unnamed Bush administration officials as saying that Iraq had recently “stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” Later, while embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, she wrote that Iraqi scientists were briefing American officials on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons stash.
A year later, after U.S. troops failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Times acknowledged lapses in some of its prewar Iraq coverage, a mea culpa widely read as an affront to Miller.
A Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, wrote in the newspaper last month that Miller’s jail time “was in part a career rehabilitation project” designed to erase from readers’ minds her reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Miller was also criticized in a memorandum to the staff last month from Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, who said that the reporter “seems to have misled” the paper’s Washington bureau chief about whether she had been told by the administration about Plame and her CIA affiliation. Keller also referred to Miller’s relationship with Libby as an “entanglement.”
On Wednesday, Keller released to the Times staff a letter he had written to Miller clarifying those comments.
Saying that he knew Miller was upset by his earlier memo, Keller explained that he had not intended to suggest that Miller and Libby had “an improper relationship” but only that her interviews of Libby had landed the paper in a major legal battle.
Keller also said that though he continued to be troubled about what Miller told her bureau chief about the Plame story, the bureau chief did not say that she misled him.
Keller wrote to the staff Wednesday that Miller, in her years at the paper, “displayed fierce determination and personal courage both in pursuit of the news and in resisting assaults on the freedom of news organizations to report.”