The Water Cooler: Miller's gone, but not clouds

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In plenty of ways, it can only be good for The New York Times brand that the paper severed ties with lightning-rod reporter Judith Miller. Although she was considered a hero by many for 85 days in jail for her role in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, critics never forgave her pre-war reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Once she did testify, they began fiercely criticizing the paper's confusing and incomplete coverage of the Plame investigation itself. (Valerie Flame? Please.) So far, the entire affair seems to have hurt The Times brand more than the Jayson Blair fiasco.

Last week the paper also reported essentially flat paid weekday circulation and revealed that only about 135,000 people had signed up to pay for TimesSelect since Sept. 19. While 135,000 is more than some expected so soon, it's a speck compared to the print edition's paid weekday circulation of 1.1 million and the Web site's September traffic of 21.3 million. And bruising battles over secret sources and regrettable coverage still remain. A Times reporter, along with three other non-Times journalists, now stands in contempt for refusing to say who fed reports that Wen Ho Lee was suspected of spying for China. Mr. Lee, who was never charged with espionage, is suing the government. His case could again remind readers that The Times is a mortal business, not a voice from the clouds.

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