Thursday, July 21, 2005

High-Caliber Reporting

I’vebeen thinking a lot about a journalist’s right to protect a source’s anonymity.I understand the need to keep these secrets; it’s the expectation of confidentiality that gives some people the nerve to talk to a reporter in the first place.

Onthe other hand, there are plenty of people who take advantage of this supposed bond of secrecy. For instance, someone (or several someones) was leaking Judge Ethel Clement’s name as Bush’s pick all over Tuesday morning, in order to build the suspense for his Supreme Court press conference that night.I agree with Atrios on this point:Reporters should press the source for where they got the disinformation from– and if the source can’t give up their puppetmaster, then out them. Part of the bond is that the source is playing straight with the journalist; if he’s intentionally lying, the whole thing is null and void. But even in this case, there’s no reason for the law to get involved. It’s something that should be worked out between the reporter and the duplicitous slimeball…I mean, “source.”

Butthen there’s the matter of the Plame case. In this case, the leakers almostcertainly had another motive for speaking to reporters. And I agree with Molly Ivins’ sentiments when she writes in her July 14th column:

Look, reporters come armed with a notebook and a pencil. They do not carry guns, they do not have the powerto arrest people, they do not have subpoena power, they cannot force peopleto talk by holding them as material witnesses, they cannot sneak into theirhomes and read their computers. Generally speaking, if the law can't make a case without help from a reporter, they're incompetent.

What makes this different – and, I think, what makes Fitzgerald’s subpoenas to journalists valid – is not that a crime has been committed. Not even the severity of the crime – as severe as treason – makes the call for Matt Cooperand Judith Miller to deliver their sources proper. (Yes, it is legal; I justthink that it’s an action that’s damaging to our free society.) What makes this case an exception is that, in this case, journalism was used to commit the crime.

In a murder, homicide detectives search high and low for the murder weapon, knowing that by examining its condition and discovering its history they may findthe key to solving the crime. This case is the same: Journalism is what revealed Valerie Plame as a covert agent. But who pulled the trigger? The prosecutor, I believe, has the right and the duty to investigate the matter fully, asif he were a ballistics expert with a .38.


1 comment:

Jeri said...

Really good points, Rob. Fitzgerald seems like a serious prosecutor with a lot of integrity and determination. He may be thinking exactly what you're thinking.