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Gary Younge
Colleagues call for removal of New York Times journalist in CIA leak case

The New York Times continued to implode under the weight of internal criticism yesterday as the public clamour for one its most prominent reporters, Judith Miller, to be removed from her job gained pace.

The row threatens to engulf one of the country's most venerated newspapers in a bitter dispute over its reporting of the Iraq war, its unquestioning defence of an allegedly rogue reporter and its editor's ability to assert his authority over his staff.

This weekend, the paper's readers' editor and a prominent columnist argued in print that Ms Miller's presence in the newsroom damaged the credibility of the paper. Their comments came after the paper's editor sent a memo to staff claiming that Ms Miller misled him about her involvement in a story over a CIA leak.

In a column headlined Woman of Mass Destruction, columnist Maureen Dowd argued: "Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, [Miller] was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet Miss Run Amok."

The paper's public editor, who is the readers' representative, yesterday wrote that "the problems facing [Ms Miller] inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter".

Ms Miller's journalistic reputation has had a chequered recent history. In the runup to the Iraq war, she was accused of being insufficiently critical of the Bush administration's claims that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Last year, the paper issued a public apology for its Iraq coverage in which three of the five articles it highlighted were by Ms Miller.

But just three months ago, Ms Miller was a hero in American journalism after she decided to go to jail rather than reveal her source in an investigation over how a secret CIA operative's identity was made public. However, her release from jail last month after 85 days and consequent testimony to a federal grand jury has raised serious questions about her role in the affair.

As the investigation draws to a close this week, it threatens to deliver a serious blow not just to the New York Times but also to the Bush administration, with indictments likely and key lieutenants Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Karl Rove in the firing line. Possible charges include the deliberate disclosure of an undercover agent's identity, perjury or obstruction of justice.

The controversy relates to the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame. Ms Plame was a covert CIA agent whose husband, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went on a CIA-sponsored trip to investigate whether Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons.

On his return, Mr Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the case for going to war. In an effort to discredit Mr Wilson, White House officials allegedly revealed Ms Plame's identity by suggesting that she helped arrange her husband's trip. It is a crime knowingly to divulge the identity of an undercover CIA operative and the leak forced the justice department to investigate.

Ms Miller initially refused to reveal her source and was sent to jail in July for contempt. She relented late last month and testified that her source, Mr Libby, gave her a voluntary assurance she could do so.

But subsequent accounts of her contacts with Mr Libby and her testimony have put a question mark over her veracity as a witness and a journalist. Ms Miller says she cannot remember who gave her the name "Valerie Flame", which is in her notebook. She "recalled" one meeting with Mr Libby only after she was told there was evidence of it. She claims she had a conversation with her editors about the story she was doing, but both of her editors at the time deny any such conversation took place.

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