Sunday, July 10, 2005 Anonymity has its place

I've followed this story a little, especially lately, and I haven't really had much to say about it, except that I hope it brings down Karl Rove. But now with all the talk about confidential sources and reporters going to jail, I had some more thoughts. I'm all for reporters being able to protect their sources, because I recognize that if they can't then those sources are likely to dry up, which is bad for the press, and bad for the audience they serve. But I seriously can't understand why there can't be protection for sources, but with an exception for when the act of being the cource itself is a crime. It really seems pretty simple to me, but I'm probably missing something.

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sumo said...

Yeah...what's up with Novacula not getting into trouble about spilling the proverbial beans about Plame? Talk about a double/conservative standard. Who am I kidding? Conservatives have no standards!

Bruce Webb said...

You are not missing anything.

People are acting like this is just open season on journalists. No, it is a Federal Prosecuter using his best judgement. In the normal course of events I doubt Fitzgerald would toss some Chicago reporter in the pokey for refusing to disclose who told him about the Sewer Commissioner taking a payoff. The stakes would not be worth the assault on the First Amendment. But a top level Administration official committing a felony for crass political gain and in doing so blowing the identity of an entire covert CIA front corporation merited, in Fitzgeralds judgement, dropping the gloves.

I work for the government in a regulatory role. You make decisions on what is important and what is not. If I consistently make bad decisions you discipline me or fire me or fire my bosses for letting me get out of control. But the answer is not to just reflexively make a new rule.

Fitzgerald is just doing his job in the best way he can. The notion that every Federal Prosecuter in the country will treat this as a green light is ridiculous.

Christiana said...

The only problem with the type of exception you describe is that it could be applied to basically any and every situation where a source wants to be anonymous. It doesn't become an issue for most, but pretty much any government worker or high-level private employee has rules in their contract that they aren't allowed to talk to the press without express permission.

Ol Cranky said...

The situation should be judged on a case by case basis, that's why there is no actual need for a law. Nobody was jailed over the watergate leak - the source was in a very different situation than this one. Take a peak at Blondsense with an interesting except confirming Rove as Cooper's source prior to the Novak announcement and Rove's propaganada move based on his outing of Joe Wilson's wife. A shield law could be a huge barrier to freedom of the press as the press is used as a propaganda machine.

The more I read, however, the more I think the Judy Miller situation may be more of a 5th amendment issue (for her) than a 1st amendment one. Regardless, other sources have led to her as being someone with critical information which renders the point she never published the info as moot (my personal opinion on why she didn't publish is that, with her reputation as a shill and problems she'd gotten the NYT in, the story would have been seen as a more apparent move by Rove than someone else -even Novak -spilling the beans.

The henny penny rhetoric and actions by other outlets (Cleveland Plain Dealer, for example), shows more of a clear inability to understand the full scope and use this as an opportunity to act responsibly.

John Howard said...

But Christiana, there's a difference between a breach of contract and a federal crime, I still don't see why it's not a pretty obvious exception.