Would you pay $49.95 to watch women wrestling in mud? I did last week, and it was well worth the expense. I get the New York Times Online, and until a couple of weeks ago, all the features were free. Then, as some of you have no doubt discovered, the NYT's columnists started to have only their opening sentences on free display. To get the full columns of Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and the others you have to pony up $49.95 for a 14-day free trial, and then a year's subscription to Times Select.

I held off until Saturday, when the Times nailed the sale with Dowd's column title, "Woman of Mass Destruction," and her ominous opening sentence, "I've always liked Judy Miller."

Miller has been the sport of a million stories, and there was nothing much by way of startling revelations in what Dowd wrote, but in operatic terms it was as though Maria Callas had suddenly rushed onto the stage and slugged Elizabeth Schwartzkopf.

After that enticing lead, designed to make online readers fish out their credit cards, Dowd spent five paragraphs sketching Miller's profile as a power-mad egomaniac, (demanding Dowd's chair at a White House briefing) before drop kicking her in the face with the blunt accusations that she's a liar and -- a thought first expressed in this column the day Miller went behind bars -- that "her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project."

Then, with Judy down on the canvas, Dowd came flying down from the corner post, with her knee on Judy's throat:

"Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover 'the same thing I've always covered -- threats to our country.' If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands."

Moral: Don't ever take Maureen Dowd's chair at a White House briefing.

Dowd mentions an internal memo to the staff from the Times' editor, Bill Keller, in which -- to use Dowd's words -- "Judy seemed to have 'misled' the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case."

What Keller actually wrote was the following: "if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises."

"Entanglement" is a curiously suggestive word, given the rich and varied texture of Judy Miller's supposed sexual resume, whose imagined contours have been the sport of newsrooms and hotel bars around the world. Certainly Miller took it that way, writing in response, "As for your reference to my 'entanglement' with Mr. Libby, I had no personal, social, or other relationship with him except as a source." Welcome to The Times as Pay Per View Reality TV.

Keller's sniveling "internal" memo throwing Miller over the side, which he obviously knew would be forwarded to Howard Kurtz 10 seconds after he hit the SEND key, seems to me to be entirely disgusting. The Times nailed Miller's colors to its mast many years ago. There are decades' worth of her atrocious mendacities in its archives, and decades' worth of accurate refutations of her news stories ignored by Times' editors.

Miller's game was the Times' game. They were witting co-conspirators. When Miller co-wrote (with Stephen Engelberg and William) "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War," the Times was happy to print her stories in the paper designed to push the book up into best-seller status, in a staggering conflict of interest that earned the paper plenty of money. This, remember, was when Miller was sent that mysterious envelope of white powder that turned out not to be anthrax spores, which gave the book yet another boost.

It's way too late in the game for Times editors to start whining that Judy misled them. They printed her rubbish because they were disposed to believe it, and for Keller to turn on her now in an "internal" memo designed for public consumption is cowardly and despicable. The gentlemanly thing for Keller to do would to keep a stiff upper lip, let Dowd and the reporters toss Miller on their horns and, if circumstances warrant, fall upon his sword, accompanied in this act by the publisher, unless the Times' shareholders shoot him first for presiding over the 53 percent drop in profits this year.

I never cared much for the whole Plame scandal, mostly on the aesthetic grounds that outing Plame as a CIA agent seemed such a moronic way for the White House to try to discredit Joe Wilson, also because outing CIA agents is an act for which -- for radicals at least -- applause should be the default setting. But in that odd way that scandals acquire critical mass by dint of larger social and political discontent, the Plame scandal is severely wounding the Bush regime and the New York Times, and I certainly applaud that.

And with the Times now publicly dismembering itself the scandal has at last become fun. Not as much fun as the Lewinsky scandal, of course, but what scandal will ever match those magical years?

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.