Thu, Apr 09, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Book review: The Story: A Reporter’s Journey

A ‘New York Times’ reporter who made (and was) front page news tells it again

By Terry McDermott  /  NY Times News Service

During the war, she writes, she was the sole reporter embedded with the military team charged with finding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It failed, meaning so had she. Miller concedes that the Bush administration’s case for war was built largely on Iraq’s presumably ambitious weapons program.

Miller’s main defense is that the experts she relied upon — intelligence officials, weapons experts, members of the Bush administration and others — were wrong about Hussein’s weapons. She acknowledges being wrong but not making any mistakes. She quotes herself telling another reporter: “If your sources were wrong, you are wrong.” This is where she gets stuck.

Journalists, especially those who have a talent for investigative work, are taught early to write big, to push the story as far as possible. Be careful; nail the facts; be fair, but push hard. Nobody pushed harder than Miller. In this case, she wound up implicitly pushing for war.

‘SAD AND FLAWED’

The final section of The Story deals with Miller’s role in the Valerie Plame affair, her refusal to identify a source (for an article she never wrote), her jailing because of that refusal, and finally her forced resignation from the Times in 2005.

As she describes it, she wasn’t simply abandoned but thrown overboard. This seems partly because of politics and institutional embarrassment, but also partly because of her personality. Almost every investigative reporter is in some way difficult to deal with. Miller was no exception. She offended colleagues on the way up, she says, and they delighted in her failure when she fell down.

To Miller’s credit, this is not a score-settling book, although Bill Keller, the executive editor who she says forced her out of the Times, gets walked around the block naked a couple of times and competing reporters receive just-for-old-times’-sake elbows to their rib cages.

That doesn’t mean she has made peace with the end of her career at the Times. It was a devastating exile for a proud and influential reporter. Cast out of the journalistic temple, she says she felt “stateless,” and from the evidence here she remains a bit lost. This sad and flawed book won’t help her be found.

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