To Sever

How much severance should Judy Miller receive?

New York Times reporter Judith Miller is in talks to sever her ties with the paper, an ignoble end to a 28-year run that has brought the paper significant prize and peril.

According to a lawyer familiar with the matter, the talks were at a standstill late yesterday because of a wide gap between Miller’s demands and The Times’ offer for her to leave.

Let me do some quick math.

She lied to her editors. Look. You can fuck up, as a reporter. You can get something wrong, you can get something really wrong, you can get something 180 degrees wrong. But so long as you own up to the mistake and how you made it, you probably aren’t going to get fired for it. You might get reprimanded, you might get moved off the story, you might get demoted to night cops and morgue duty, you might even get suspended. But fired for an honest mistake? Rare.

But if you steal documents and say somebody gave them to you, if you promise somebody confidentiality and then tell your boss they agreed to be named, if you say you know something when really you’re just guessing, if you make up a name for somebody you didn’t interview, if you ever, ever, ever lie to your editors about a story or how you came by it, your ass is on the street.

At any other newspaper in America, that’s what would be happening to any other reporter right now. No severance, no “talks.” Fired. Shitcanned. Chucked. Sacked.

Look, everybody fucks up a story now and again. Lord knows I had some fairly epic mistakes in my career, things that still make me want to crawl under the bed and cry just from thinking about them. But what Judy Miller did wasn’t a mistake. She didn’t slip, trip and fall into bed with the White House.

Steve’s right when he talks about the collegiality of newsrooms and the sense of loyalty people within them have for one another. And reporters who do good work tend to get leeway, they do tend to be allowed to rabbit-hole off on stories on their own. But there are some things that trump that. There are some unbreakable rules. Don’t fuck your sources. Don’t make shit up. And don’t ever, ever, EVER lie to your editors, not and expect them to watch your back when things go bad.

She better have pictures of Pinch and Keller and a very young male goat, because otherwise there’s no excuse for them engaging in “talks.” There’s no excuse for them doing anything other than throwing her lying ass out on the street.

Severance? She’d be lucky if they didn’t sue her to recoup the last three years of her wages.