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Stop Getting Scooped!

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To: The New York Times
From: A Former Reporter/Current News Junkie
Re: Why so flaky lately?

Oh, The New York Times, why must you be so unlikeable? So hard to rely upon for news about its own biggest current newsmaker?

Why are you making moves that makes me wonder if I need to buy you a journalism 101 textbook?

Do you not see that this situation – especially your habit of getting scooped on your own reporter’s actions – is switching from comic to tragic?

I started writing this column Friday morning. I was all set to write that it was generally a good week for the news media, especially for The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Both newspapers had excellent editorials attacking President Bush’ comments about vetoing a bill that would have blocked torture.

Both newspapers had what seemed – seemed being the key word – thorough articles on this whole sordid mess about Judith Miller. She is the one who has been in bed with the White House administration, first for being their stooge for trumped up stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then for having some role in this whole mess with outing a CIA agent.

Meanwhile, Jay Rosen – one of my favorite media critics – wrote his influential column about how he no longer considers The New York Timesthe nation’s best newspaper.

Derek Rose and other bloggers quickly came to the Timesdefense.

I wanted to love you again, New York Times. Really, I did. Why must that love be unrequited?

Trashing you week after week was getting old.

I had criticized you for being clueless – especially as compared to the Washington Post – in adjusting to the Internet age by putting content behind walls.

And when Judith Miller got out of jail I questioned how the New York Times can get scooped on its own reporter’s release and why some questions are being met with new questions.

So as you can see some good news was welcome, and not just for The New York Times.

After Katrina, some reporters were acting lazy and too self-congratulatory. When it became clear that some of the rumors they reported were, well, rumors, they began to understandably shut up. I urged them to get off their butts, put away the champagne and get back to work.

And many did.

There were excellent news stories in the Times on topics other than Katrina and Miller and I was starting to like you again. I mean, who wants to regularly beat up on a newspaper nicknamed the Gray Lady?

Sure I can quibble – and did – about how The New York Times and other publications did the public a disservice when it continued its habit of trying so hard to avoid offending its readers that the reader has to go to other publications to understand the story. In this case it was with a woman whose t-shirt so offended other passengers because of its content, which just happened to include White House officials.

But fine, that maddening puritanical streak is nothing new.

I was ready to overlook Miller’s annoying habit- as Sydney Schanberg wrote about it – of refusing to come clean on her conduct while taking steps to try to look like the martyr or hero of the situation. She was even pointing out, to Barbara Walters, that she was in prison longer than any other journalist.

And then it happened again! You got scooped again! And to make matters worse, it was on another questionable action by Miller.

This time it was the New York Observer – a weekly, mind you – scooping the Times with the news that Miller had just found (whoops!) other notes she had from a conversation with I. Lewis Libby.

Either you give up the notes or you don’t – by “accidently” finding new ones Miller just gives more ammo to future prosecutors fighting for reporter’s sources. I can just hear them saying they will need all the notes of a reporter, not just the ones the reporter first “finds.”

The new notes may explain why Karl Rove and Miller are getting renewed interest from the prosecutor.

For a few hours Saturday I even felt bad for my characterizations of Miller and her reporting. What made me rethink my stance was an article suggesting she was right to be skeptical about whether Libby Lewis’ waiver to her was truly voluntary.

So maybe she had more reason to sit in jail than to prep for a future book deal after all. I felt bad. Poor Judy!

But wait a minute?!

Why was it Reuters, not the Times, obtaining and published the letter by the prosecutor encouraging Lewis to give Miller the waiver?

Why was Reuters scooping the Times? Had the Times forgot that it had won past journalism awards for being first, not last, with stories? Why was serial news fabricator Jayson Blair, formerly of the Times, looking good in comparison to Miller?

Why, as the Columbia Journalism Review, Press Think and others are rightly asking, is the Times not disclosing what is going on?

Meanwhile, Miller’s lawyer has reportedly stopped returning journalists’ phone calls.

While The New York Times referred to new information in the case its readers were once again forced to read elsewhere to find out what was really going on with its own reporter.

This, just to be clear, is not how it is supposed to work.

As a journalist I learned the hard way that you can do the best job ever covering a complicated issue but if you flub a detail like the spelling of a person’s name you lose major credibility.

That’s the situation now with the Times – it can do a great job covering Iraq but if it can’t do a decent job covering Miller it’s hard to avoid wondering what else it is doing wrong.

Is it any wonder that employee morale at the Times is supposed to be in the toilet?

The Times can do better but for now, I have to think that Jay Rosen is right about the Times and Derek Rose is wrong: The Times is looking inferior to its peers.

Go ahead, Times. Prove me wrong.

Meanwhile, I remain your constant reader,

Scott Butki

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Scott Butki

    I was amused to see the Freelancing for Dummies book because originally I was going to make a joking suggestion the Times get a copy of Reporting for Dummies.
    Then I realized such a title – which I’d just made up – might actually exist!

    I posted links to this piece at journalism sites so a few reporters may come around.

  • Dave Nalle

    We don’t actually need the New York Times. It’s been flaky for years. The Washington Post has been a better paper for most of my life, and it’s about time people started realizing it.


  • Matthew T. Sussman

    But the NY Times is the only NY newspaper that doesn’t know the exact times and locations Lindsay Lohan gets drunk.

  • Scott Butki

    Dave, I agree but I wondered if I just liked the Post better because I live near DC but after reading it I decided my instincts was right.

    Oh, my, I think we just agreed on something!

    Matthew, oh, you got me there!
    Get me rewrite! That explains their problems

    Maybe if they put Miller on the Lohan beat… hmmm…

  • Cerulean

    Scott, I want to know more how she outed that CIA agent for the White House if she did. I guess it was probably in the news already, but it wasn’t really explored from the angle of her guilt there and the NY Times’ as well. It seems hard to believe that the higher ups at the Newspaper weren’t party to that as well.

    Their silence could well be explained in that way.

    I felt sorry for her going to jail and I felt that it was wrong, but when I looked her, I somehow didn’t like her. Maybe now I know why?

  • DrPat

    OMG! Lindsay Lohan is a covert CIA agent!?! Oh wait – are you saying that Judith Miller outed Plame, and NYT put the blame on Rove’s assistant?

    So was it Lindsay Lohan on the grassy knoll? Now I’m confused…

  • Scott Butki

    The weird part – ok, one of the weird parts – is that Miller never publishd a story on the issue. It’s not clear why she did interviews but never published anything and this weeks’ news that she had a second set of notes relating to the interview for a story she never ran makes this whole escapade even odder.

    So, no, she didn’t write anything that outted Plame. But the real crime – according to the law – was in someone revealing Plame’s identity in the first place and THAT could have happened regardless of whether a story was published.

    And I think Lohan is the one who was the leak under the guise of being a crazy trashy party girl.

    That’s the long answer.

  • Scott Butki
  • Scott Butki

    So do I. So do loads of people.
    And as readers of her newspaper we think we have a right to know.

  • Cerulean

    I wish you’d look into it and write about it.

  • Scott Butki

    Oops. This is
    the link
    I was suggesting is helpful… sort of.

  • Scott Butki

    You want me to write MORE about Miller. Man, I was trying to cut back on my amount of Miller time.

    I’m trying to read between the lines but it’s still unclear.

    Did you click that link? That should explain everything!

  • Scott Butki
  • Scott Butki

    Oh this is getting more interesting!

    What are the odds that both Miller and Libby Lewis forgot to mention to the grand jury – let alone the New York Times readers – that Miller and Lewis talked about Joe Wilson BEFOE Wilson even wrote his op-ed.

    This is getting weirder by the day.

    From Slate’sToday’s Papers

    Everybody mentions that the NYT’s Judy Miller had a chat yesterday with the special prosecutor in the Plame case and will now talk to the grand jury again; she’s scheduled to appear today. The movement comes after some notes Miller recently rediscovered helped her jog her memory regarding a previously undisclosed chat she had with the vice president’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, about White House critic Joseph Wilson weeks before Wilson went public questioning the administration’s prewar uranium claims. The National Journal—a respected beltway publication—reported yesterday that Libby also has had a bit of a senior moment and didn’t disclose the chat during testimony.

    The Post describes “numerous lawyers” in the Plame case as “bracing for … criminal charges against administration officials.” The Journal reads the tea leaves and guesses that the special prosecutor “might be investigating not a narrow case on the leaking of the agent’s name, but perhaps a broader conspiracy.”

    The least-detailed (but least-speculative!) piece on Miller’s appearance comes from the NYT. The paper’s editor, Bill Keller, sent out a memo yesterday explaining that the Times is doing a big takeout on the case but hasn’t finished yet because Miller has stayed mum on some things since “she remains under a contempt-of-court order, and is not yet clear of legal jeopardy.” A few questions: What does the contempt-of-court order cover? Is it only her grand jury testimony, or something more? In other words, what are the legal risks in Miller talking? And, again, this is unclear: Is the Times delaying its reporting in deference to those stated legal concerns?

  • Scott Butki

    Things in Miller-NYT land are getting wild and weird again, just in time for the weekend
    I wrote about it here rather than for Blog Critics this week.

  • Scott Butki

    So do you think the Times performance has improved any in recent days?

  • Scott Butki

    I wrote a reply to Keller, telling him it’s a nice start but listing where his memo falls short and what else he needs to do