NEW YORK Judith Miller, the recently jailed and much-criticized reporter, has announced her retirement from The New York Times, but says she plans to keep lobbying for a federal shield law that protects journalists from revealing their sources.
Miller spent 85 days in jail for defying court orders in a CIA leak probe, refusing to testify about conversations with a confidential source. She retired from the Times yesterday, declaring that she had to leave because she had “become the news.”
Her departure from the Times, as part of a severance deal, ends a stormy relationship between her and the paper. That relationship worsened dramatically in recent weeks as Times editors and columnists assailed her publicly for her actions in a CIA leak case and for her reporting on weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The Times declined to disclose details of the severance package but agreed to print a letter from Miller in which she defended herself and explained her reasons for leaving.
“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,” Miller wrote in a column posted today on the Times Web site.
Even before her involvement in the CIA leak case, she had “become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war,” she said.
She also emphasized the need for a federal shield law, writing that without such legal protections for journalists, “a free press cannot exist.”
Miller, 57, joined the Times in 1977 and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for reporting on terrorism. She said she plans to keep writing about national security threats. But despite a spate of job offers, she said she will first take some time off.
“We are grateful to Judy for her significant personal sacrifice to defend an important journalistic principle,” Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said. “I respect her decision to retire from the Times and wish her well.”
The paper had initially been publicly supportive of Miller’s refusal to testify and waged a lengthy and costly legal battle on her behalf. She was refusing to tell a grand jury about conversations she had with I. Lewis Libby, then chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, about CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame is the wife of a Bush administration critic.
After she ultimately decided to testify, saying Libby had given her permission to do so, the Times published an article describing Miller as a rogue reporter who battled with editors and colleagues.
In a subsequent staff memo, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said Miller also appeared to have misled editors about her “entanglement” with Libby.
Miller told the Associated Press in a recent interview that she had been “terribly sad” about those comments and her deteriorating relationship with the paper.
She acknowledged mistakes in her reporting on Iraq but defended her decision to go to jail to protect Libby’s identity.
“I have done nothing wrong here,” she said. “I’ve never misled anybody.”
At a dinner and panel discussion yesterday evening sponsored by a press-freedom group, Miller acknowledged that some of the Times’ public infighting had been nasty.
“I don’t really know why it happened,” Miller said, adding, “this was a very, very difficult experience, not only for me but for the paper.”
Keller has since clarified that he didn’t mean the word “entanglement” to imply that she had an improper relationship with Libby. In a letter to Miller that he circulated, he also softened his earlier statement that Miller had misled a Times editor, acknowledging that the editor in question didn’t himself claim to have been misled.
“I’m very glad that The New York Times has cleared this up,” she told the AP. “I never misled anyone.”
Asked whether she thought some colleagues had attacked her publicly to settle personal scores, Miller said, “definitely.”
“I was very upset by it,” she said. “I was very saddened by it.”
Libby was indicted last month on charges of obstruction of justice and two counts each of false statement and perjury. A special prosecutor said Libby lied to investigators trying to learn whether there was an intentional effort to blow Plame’s cover.