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The report begins: "New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says one of his biggest mistakes as editor was not addressing the paper's misleading pre-Iraq War coverage sooner, including the reporting of former Times writer Judy Miller."

Outgoing New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller (right), with successor Jill Abramson and managing editor Dean Baquet. (photo: Fred R Conrad/AP)
Outgoing New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller (right), with successor Jill Abramson and managing editor Dean Baquet. (photo: Fred R Conrad/AP)

Bill Keller Speaks Out on Judy Miller, Iraq War Coverage and Fox News

By Joe Strupp, Media Matters for America

05 June 11


ew York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says one of his biggest mistakes as editor was not addressing the paper's misleading pre-Iraq War coverage sooner, including the reporting of former Times writer Judy Miller.

Keller tells Media Matters that he is "not at all" surprised that Miller ended up at the "conservative" Fox News Channel after she left the Times under a cloud of controversy related to her Iraq reporting.

Keller, who announced Thursday that in September he will leave the post he has held since July 2003, said: "Judy was the author of a lot of those stories, and I should have dealt with the stories and with her I think as the sort of first order of business when I took the job rather than waiting until the following year."

Keller was referring to the unusual editor's note the Times published on May 26, 2004, in which it admitted many of its pre-war stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - a number of which were reported by Miller - misrepresented the situation before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"The whole Judy Miller WMD experience was ... one of the low points of the last eight years," Keller said.

Keller, who took over as editor in 2003, did so in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal that forced the departure of former executive editor Howell Raines and former managing editor Gerald Boyd. It also prompted the Times to institute new safeguards for accuracy and plagiarism.

Keller said he did not want to add to the post-Blair scandal atmosphere by correcting the WMD reporting that soon. But says he should have.

"When I came in, I thought I sort of hate this business of, you come in and you immediately start pointing a finger of blame at your predecessor.

"I covered the Soviet Union and that is what Soviet leaders would always do. They sort of come in and they establish their bona fides by trashing their predecessor. [It was] partly that and it was also I wanted to kind of strike a positive tone in the early days.

"People, I thought, did not need another scandal and so I let it fester for a year.... What I should have done when I came in was ... write that mea culpa and explain to readers, 'You know, look, we wrote some bad stories in the run-up to the war. I don't think it was out of any malice, I think it was we kind of fell for the conventional wisdom. But, you know, and we've learned from it.' Instead, I let a year go by when a lot of people, particularly people on the left, became disenchanted with the Times because they saw it as having been cheerleaders for the war."

"I think I could have saved the paper a lot of trouble and some damage by dealing with that much sooner."

Miller did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Keller also said that Miller's 2005 jailing on contempt of court charges for refusing to reveal a source in the Valerie Plame scandal made it difficult to criticize her then.

"One of the reasons that we didn't want to be seen chastising Judy was she was facing a threat that was tied up in a principle we believed in, which is you have to honor your commitments to sources."

Miller is now a Fox News contributor and makes regular appearance on Fox News Watch, the network's media criticism show.

Keller said he is "not at all" surprised that Miller ended up at Fox.

"The places that she has written for are Fox and The Wall Street Journal op-ed pages - the two where I have encountered her work since leaving the Times," said Keller. "I think she left with a considerable feeling of bitterness about the Times, so those would be naturally hospitable environments for her.... We now know because of things that she's written that her viewpoint on a lot of subjects is comfortably at home in those venues."

Keller was critical of Fox News, however, saying that its false claims of being "fair and balanced" actually hurt all news outlets that truly strive to be fair and balanced.

"Fox is perfectly entitled to be a conservative news organization.... I will always defend their right to be that. My criticism of Fox is that a lot of the time they pretend that they're not. And I think that just tends to contribute to cynicism about the media. People say, 'Well Fox claims to be fair and balanced, but they're not. You claim to be fair and balanced, you must not be either.' And so all news organizations, including the ones that try very hard to play fair and to be even-handed in their reporting and writing get tarred by the Fox brush."

According to Keller, "People see Fox News, they recognize that it's conservative. Its commentators are conservative; some of the time its news programs are overtly conservative. They see that and they see that its slogan is 'fair and balanced' and then they see other news organizations that say, 'Yes, we really try to be even-handed and impartial.' And they know Fox is misrepresenting themselves, so they think everybody else is, too."

Keller also said that he worries people do not seek out many different viewpoints of news today. Still, he remained hopeful that many news organizations would continue to strive for fair reporting and not go overboard either on the left or the right.

"I've always found it a little worrisome that people can select a news diet that just suits their prejudices. If you're a liberal, you can put together a menu of web sites that's only liberal and, if you're conservative you can put together a menu that's only conservative, and so your ideas never get challenged. And I think that's not healthy.

"But I don't think that everybody - that every website and every news organization is going to gravitate to the right or left. I think there are and there always will be news organizations that really strive to provide you with the information you need to make up your own mind." your social media marketing partner


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+12 # Yakpsyche 2011-06-05 23:04
What a bunch of horse pucky. Of course he regrets it all. Poor baby. How sad.
+28 # Alexis Fecteau 2011-06-06 00:03
Nice, you knowingly and willingly helped murder over a million and a half innocent problem, you're forgiven...I'm sure all the Iraqi families forgive you too.
+33 # Crusader Rabbit 2011-06-06 01:04
Please stop insulting our intelligence, Mr. Keller. It was politically expedient for the Times to promote Millerʻs agenda under the Bush regime, just as it is now politically expedient for the Times to distance itself from that same agenda. Aside from a few columnists, this is not a paper that strives "to provide you with the information you need to make up your own mind." You would have to have been an idiot to actually believe at the time that Saddam had a WMD program. I remember in the early 80s a Palestinian friend showing me a Times article that seemed to have been written only to create (and then reinforce numerous times) the visual image of Yasser Arafatʻs "huge, crooked nose." If you want objectivity about the Middle East, read the Guardian.
+21 # liberalman 2011-06-06 02:30
Boy am I shocked that Judy Miller the sky is falling Iraq lead-up author & mouthpiece for all things Rovian & Bush is now working for Fox "News." And Mr.Bill Keller,not wanting to rock the boat immediately upon becoming editor at the Times is just plain cover my own tail B.S. Everyone in the news business & in the intelligence gathering agencies knew that Millers pieces were fabricated directly by & through the Bush White House in order to delude the public & members of the elected houses in it's rush to this grave mistake of a needless invasion. Why continue to cover up this journalistic hooey with puff pieces that make excuses for this intolerable & even criminal behavior? Because the Bush staff still has power in it's ability to spin this story like a child's top is why. What ever happened to honesty & journalistic integrity? Sold out to sell papers & it is a damned crime.
+3 # Not Confused 2011-06-06 14:21
What do you mean delude the members of the elected houses? How can the colluded be deluded?
+20 # moby doug 2011-06-06 02:36
This is laughable, or would be if Miller's stories weren't so gravely misleading and destructive. Keller is grotesquely self-serving. His rationales and justifications are a defense of the indefensible. By condoning Miller in the early, critical, months of the war he made himself accomplice to the single worst strategic debacle in American history. He severely damaged the credibility of a great newspaper and completely destroyed his own. The most pointed thing he can say about Fox is that it's "conservative"? Fox News is the propaganda arm of the GOP. It's run by GOP operative Roger Ailes, and the news it spews is merely and always the party line. I guess Keller's mealymouthed description of this American Isvestia is his way of being fair and balanced.
+5 # Sukumar 2011-06-06 11:06
I think you got the cart before the horse. The GOP is the political arm of Fox.
+22 # genierae 2011-06-06 05:56
I am really tired of this incessant false equivalence. Liberals are much more truthful and forthcoming than Fox News or any other Republican organization. The more left someone leans the more integrity they have and the more social responsibility they possess. If you were to measure the two parties on a vertical scale of virtue, guess who would be solidly at the top? I ran across a quote by Adlai Stevenson the other day that expresses this quite well: "When Republicans quit lying about Democrats, Democrats will stop telling the truth about Republicans."
+22 # fredboy 2011-06-06 06:26
Thanks, Bill. Her "WMD" coverage helped justify and start and endless invasion and occupation that has destroyed countless lives. As a result, our nation is weaker and distrust is rampant. It also destroyed the Times' credibility--it is no longer and will never again be a great newspaper. Great legacy.
+15 # kalpal 2011-06-06 06:26
Fox is never fair and always unbalanced. Of course it has established in teh courts its right to lie to its audiences and as such is entirely legal in its inevitably false claims to be reporting news.

Judy Miller winding up there is entirely within Roger Ailes's intent to continue to lie to Americans in an effort to establish a ruling oligarchy of the overly privileged while regressing the general populace to the status of peasants and indentured workers who will become disenfranchised if the right wing has its way.
+15 # fredboy 2011-06-06 06:29
Sorry about the second post, but in re-reading this story I see he confesses to having arrived to serve as chief wimp. You were EDITOR, for Pete's sake! You were brought in to straighten out the messes--not cower from them! Disgraceful!
+8 # fredboy 2011-06-06 08:19
This just in: 5 US soldiers killed in Baghdad rocket attack.

Thanks to Bill, Judy and The Times...
+7 # mego 2011-06-06 10:01
Oooo. Not admitting that the NYT published lies that lead to a war and countless deaths was only "one of the low points" of this guy's tenure as editor at the NYT. Maybe we need to ask what else he's hiding.
At a minimum he's one of those lily-livered guys (like Daddy Bush) who learned the key to success is "Never Deliver Bad News."
+6 # w 2011-06-06 10:45
Gee, Judy Miller working at dumb-Fox News...the QPQ for her giving legitimacy to the WMD lies.

dumb-Fox News always pays off the neocon and tea-bagger debts.
+9 # Lee Black 2011-06-06 11:23
Too little, too late. One sad thing is that while Millers front page stories promoted the lies of the administration the op ed pages were accurate in doubts about evidence for the rush to war. The saddest part that good investigative reporting could have derailed this war that cost Americans, Iraqis and Afghanis so much.
+8 # David r Velasquez 2011-06-06 12:33
Too little, too late, Mr Keller.
+4 # Texas Aggie 2011-06-06 22:06
While Keller's self-serving baloney disgusts me, what really bothers me is his attitude that it's ok for news sources to be either left or right. It seems to me that they should be truthful and ignore whether the truth supports either the left or the right. It speaks to his worth as an editor that actual truth of the matter never once appeared in his thoughts.
+2 # Heartbeatt 2011-06-08 13:07
Pretty hard to read Bill Keller's admission. Any understanding of what undoubtedly was a difficult time for the NYTimes pales in the face of what was clearly vital for the nation, the people of Iraq who were to suffer so terribly and the rest of the world caught up in a nonsensical and heart-rending war.
Let's add another couple of Keller's mistakes, a few amongst many: his vile piece on Assange, which reveals what kind of man he really is and his allowing the New York Times to act as an apologist for Israel's endless list of criminal activities against the Palestinian people. Regarding the latter - a great newspaper should not allow itself such bias.

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