Monday, December 12, 2005

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Note to self: avoid Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin has a long Vanity Fair story about the Judith Miller saga at the New York Times. Few people at the Times look good, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr.comes off looking like an insecure, incompetent ass. That said, I still think that Mnookin does the biggest number on Miller. The devastating part is below:

Miller, it soon became clear, was not going to be an easy source to deal with. She initially refused to speak with [Times reporter Adam] Liptak because, she said, his story about her release from jail implied that she hadn't gotten a better deal from the prosecutor than the one that was available to her before she was imprisoned. She refused to speak with [Times reporter Janny] Scott because, she told friends, Scott had not bothered to write to her when she was in jail. (She also told people that she knew Scott was "judging" her.) At various points she wouldn't speak with [Times reporter Don] Van Natta either. On Tuesday afternoon, Van Natta approached Miller in the Times's newsroom. Miller immediately gave Van Natta a hug. "I'm so glad you're involved in this," Miller said. "Well, I'd really like to talk to you, now, if you have time," Van Natta replied. "I can't do it now," Miller answered. "I'm running off to go meet with Barbara Walters."

"That was pretty amazing to me. I'm a colleague of hers, I'm trying to get an interview, and she doesn't have time for that, but she has time for Barbara Walters. And that night she did another one with Lou Dobbs." The next day, Van Natta ran into Miller again, in Bennett's Washington office; at that point, Miller told Van Natta she couldn't speak with him because Libby had given her permission to talk only to the grand jury. That's odd, Van Natta told her. On Monday in the newsroom, she had told the whole world Libby was her source....

The pressure only increased over the next week. Miller kept avoiding having on-the-record conversations with Van Natta; at one point, she complained to [Times executive editor Bill] Keller about Van Natta's line of questioning, and Van Natta felt she was trying to have him removed from the story. (Miller did something similar in my case. After I approached her for this story, she complained to the editor of this magazine and raised questions about my allegiances. She also wrote to me in an e-mail, "Seth, I read what you wrote about me in your book. You never bothered to check any of your alleged facts about me. I have absolutely no intention of talking to you." Three weeks later, after the story had been written and edited, she sent another e-mail that read, "When you are finished with your research, and want my input before you write, send me a list of questions." I sent Miller questions on two occasions, to which she never replied. Outside of noting that Miller's pre-war W.M.D. reporting was faulty—which Miller herself now acknowledges—there are barely any mentions of Miller in Hard News, my book about Howell Raines and the Times. What's more, while writing it, I tried to reach her numerous times for comment. She never responded.)

Note to self: if Seth Mnookin calls me about anything, answer in full.

Miller now has a quasi-blog -- I'll be curious to see if she responds to this piece. [Actually, Mnookin characerizes as a website, "contain[ing] self-justifying posts and cherry-picked, laudatory articles"--ed. The man is clearly unfamiliar with blogs.]

posted by Dan on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM


Who knew the NYT was the equivalent of a Jr Highschool student council? Unless you actually bother to read the paper anyway.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM [permalink]

Ah, Daniel. Tis' clear that Seth Mnookin (or is that Mooneykin?) is the Inspector Javert of the Times. Or was.

Judith Miller made the irrational judgement that the report that he was working on was a witch-burning (with her as the star turn) rather than the obvious search for justice which it was. I can't think why...

Except maybe that little anecdote Inspector Mnookin dropped about her sleeping her way to the top? Nah, couldn't be. The Inspector would never publish a rumor unsubstantiated by hard fact. Though I didn't see any evidece in the article......

I take it back about Javert. Compared with Mnooeykin Javert is clearly a far more merciful inquisitor.....

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM [permalink]

One more thing, perhaps Dan (or anyone) could help me out? I have a question about the underlying case, which is I can't figure out what crime Scooter Libby actually - committed. I know he's indicted, but it's about lying to the investigator about something that doesn't appear to be a crime. On the face of it.

And the lie appears to be that Libby said he heard something about Plame from reporter(s) and the reporter(s) say they never told him?

I know my intellect is dulled (probably from too many years voting GOP) - but this is ridiculous!

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM [permalink]

Don, the evidence offered is this: "(in the 1980s, she both lived with then congressman Les Aspin and quoted him in her dispatches)" This is an eminently testable statement.

posted by: Brian Palmer on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM [permalink]

The New Yorker's Ken Auletta has a long piece about the new York Times in this week's issue. Available at the New Yorker's web site.

posted by: Dave on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM [permalink]

Well, we could ask Les Aspin - provided he was capable of answering. I think it's a bit late, though.

Is quoting someone you're living with 'sleeping your way to the top'? Perhaps if it's the Publisher of the NY Times - but Les Aspin?

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.12.05 at 09:24 AM [permalink]

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