At a news conference after the sentencing, Times executive editor Bill Keller made brief remarks and then answered several questions.
“This is a chilling conclusion to an utterly confounding case,” Keller said.
He said the case is confounding “because of the mystery about what crimes have been committed” and because of what the judge hopes to accomplish by “the draconian act of punishing an honorable journalist.”
He said the case is “likely to serve future cover-ups of information. Anybody who believes government should be aggressively watched feels a chill up their spine today.”
Keller said Miller’s determination to honor her professional commitment is not an attempt to put herself above the law. He said the law provided her with a chance to make what he termed “a brave and principled choice.” He said Miller’s decision reflects the value of “individual conscience that has been part of this country’s tradition since its founding.”
Here’s a transcript of Keller’s Q&A with reporters, as compiled by Poynter:
Question: What do you think of the prosecutor’s allegations that The New York Times and Judy Miller have, in his words, been engaged in a martyrdom that actually hurts reporters’ efforts to protect those sources?
Keller: I don’t think that’s right. I think if there is, if it’s possible to salvage any, to discern any silver lining in this cloudy day, it’s that maybe some people who are witnesses of wrongdoing inside government will understand from this the lengths to which at least some reporters are willing to go to stand by the commitment they make when they’re doing the reporting.
Question: The judge commented on the fact that this wasn’t somebody blowing the whistle on a defective nuclear power plant under construction, that it was something else, that it was about a crime. Should that make any difference in your analysis of Ms. Miller’s actions?
Keller: To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to court with the case you’ve got. It would be nice if there was absolute clarity about the nature of this case. On the contrary, there’s immense mystery about this case. We have court judgments with redacted pages, and because it’s taking place in the venue of a grand jury, there’s an awful lot we don’t know, including exactly what crime the special prosecutor is pursuing. So, it’s not the ideal case for anybody in this. There are no winners in this. But the bottom line is that Judy Miller made a commitment to her source and she’s standing by it. That’s in the highest tradition of this job we all do.
Question: Do you feel that Time‘s decision to provide their documents to the prosecutor undermined Miller’s position today?
Keller: I think what Time did was a decision made after honest reflection and probably a great deal of agonizing. But I think it was wrong. I can’t discern what effect it had on the mind of the judge. It may well have helped in some way to get Matt a “get out of jail free” card because it’s conceivable that the fact that his notes were now in the possession of the special prosecutor may have prompted this last minute deus ex machina from Matt’s source. And I’m delighted that Matt’s not going to jail. Whether Time‘s actions had any bearing on our case is impossible to tell. It’s pure speculation.