An Ominous Development Looms - on Page A22

Lawyers for Lewis Libby have served subpoenas on the New York Times and Judy Miller - and, if they succeed, they may alter the very nature of the reporter/editor dance.

In an unwelcome development, the New York Times today tells us that lawyers for Lewis Libby, the former aide to Dick Cheney who faces obstruction of justice charges, have served subpoenas on the Times and on Judy Miller, its wayward former reporter.

Since it was Miller’s grand jury testimony that convinced prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby himself had lied to the grand jury, it’s not entirely surprising that Libby’s attorney wants to see Miller’s notes.

What’s more alarming is that the subpoenas also seek all “drafts” of Miller’s personal account of her grand jury testimony that the Times published last October, along with “documents concerning her interactions with an editor at the Times.”

When lawyers start going after each and every draft of an article that a newspaper eventually publishes, not to mention pre-publication interchanges (presumably emails) between a reporter and an editor, we’re on new and uncomfortable ground. Clearly, Libby’s lawyers want to lay bare the ins and outs of the editorial process that led to the final version of Miller’s account of her grilling before the grand jury.

If they succeed, we predict that the very nature of the reporter/editor dance that precedes publication of anything in any newsroom is going to change. And it’s going to go from a rowdy sock hop to a carefully choreographed minuet.

And that’s not good for journalists or for readers.

We’re glad the Times told us of this development. But we wish it had done so with a thorough explication displayed on page one, not with a seven-paragraph squib tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of page A22.

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.