By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A more stalwart Keller

Perhaps nothing was more dispiriting in Sunday’s massive New York Times takeout on the Judith Miller scandal than this section on executive editor Bill Keller, in which he came across as an ineffective wimp:

TIMES: On July 30, 2003, Mr. Keller became executive editor after his predecessor, Howell Raines, was dismissed after a fabrication scandal involving a young reporter named Jayson Blair.

Within a few weeks, in one of his first personnel moves, Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues. Even so, Mr. Keller said, “she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm.”

But an article in today’s New York Observer by Tom Scocca and Gabriel Sherman is more encouraging. They write:

SCOCCA AND SHERMAN: “A lot of people are galled by the quotation from Keller that after she was taken off the Iraq W.M.D. beat, she somehow found her way back in,” one Times staffer said.

In fact, Mr. Keller and Ms. Abramson had sharply rebuked Ms. Miller for that drifting. Though the Times account didn’t mention it, the two called Ms. Miller into Mr. Keller’s office this past winter and told her that she could no longer cover national security in any form for the paper.

“The implication was that she would resign,” said a person with knowledge of the meeting. Though Ms. Miller “blew up,” as the source put it, she took a two-week vacation, with Mr. Keller saying he expected to hear on her return whether she accepted the reassignment. When she came back, she agreed to the arrangement.
The Observer also reports on rumors from within the Times newsroom that Miller agreed to write her first-person account only after being ordered to do so by Keller.

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