New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said Friday that the newspaper was far too slow in correcting its reports indicating Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but the blame did not lie entirely with Judith Miller, the author of many of the stories.
In a speech to the Online News Association, Sulzberger also defended Miller’s decision to go to jail to protect the identity of her source, vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller was released last month after agreeing to testify to the grand jury that indicted Libby on Friday on charges of obstruction of justice, making a false statement and perjury.
Sulzberger acknowledged the criticism of Miller, who in the wake of her release from jail has been described on the pages of the Times as untruthful to her editors and difficult to control.
“As the lawyers often say, not every case has a perfect fact pattern,” he said.
Confidential sources are and will remain key to thorough coverage of Washington, Sulzberger said.
The next source needing protection might be a brave Pentagon whistle-blower leaking information about a vital story such as the Pentagon papers or the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Sulzberger said.
When asked by a member of the audience whether the Times’ credibility had been hurt by what the questioner termed its failure to fire Miller, Sulzberger responded, “No, I don’t.”
He added, however, “There’s no question that the Times suffered,” and its reputation was hurt.
In his address, Sulzberger said the failure not to quickly correct the Iraqi weapons reports rested also with the Times’ many editors.
“It was an institutional failure. We didn’t own up to it quickly enough,” he said. “The story is not over.”
Asked after the speech whether he was referring to ongoing developments in Washington or the status of Miller’s relationship with the Times, he said he left that deliberately ambiguous and preferred not to be more specific.