Wednesday :: Jul 6, 2005

Voices Of Reason At Miller Time

by pessimist

There has been a lot of outraged umbrage from the media concerning Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller facing jail time for contempt of court. Personally, in principle I understand the necessity for protecting sources. I also agree that there should be federal legal protections in place, as many states have already enacted.

But the sanest arguments - with logical reasoning in place of emotional exasperation - come from True Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Stephen Chapman:

Special privileges and reporters

"The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to the final decisions of the courts," said editor Norman Pearlstein - an insight that has eluded many of his fellow journalists. That would include New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who claims the prerogative of deciding for herself what information the grand jury is entitled to hear, and whose publisher backs her up.

Her fortitude would be admirable in a noble cause, which unfortunately this is not. Miller and Cooper have chosen to shield someone who blew an American agent's cover for political revenge.

This is a terrible mistake for two reasons.

In the first place, as the Supreme Court made clear, it is based on a legal privilege that exists only in the fertile imagination of journalists. But even the states that have shield laws allow prosecutors to subpoena reporters under certain conditions. Federal courts have ruled that even if there were a reporter's privilege not to testify, it would not be enough to excuse Miller and Cooper, because the information sought is crucial and the prosecutor has exhausted every other means of getting it.
If a client asks his lawyer how to get away with robbing a bank, the conversation is not protected, because the privilege was never meant to facilitate violations of the law.
Miller insists that her subpoena, by compromising the confidentiality of news sources, threatens the public's right to know. But there are some things the public has no right to know--including the names of covert agents.

The law in question was passed in 1982 after rogue agent Philip Agee outed more than 1,000 CIA operatives, potentially jeopardizing their lives. If Plame's exposure had made her a terrorist target, that would be painfully obvious.

But if federal employees can leak names to journalists without fear that the reporters may testify against them, the law would have all the value of a Confederate bank note.
The sort of privilege sought by the news media, however, would do just that.

It may not be surprising to find a couple of journalists behaving irresponsibly. What is surprising is that the entire press has rallied behind them. A host of news organizations, including Tribune Co., signed a brief siding with Cooper and Miller during their court battle. Editorialists at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, who normally can't agree that shamrocks are green, both condemned special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for thinking the protection of our spies justifies inconveniencing reporters.

Reporters who are witnesses to a crime could evade the normal duty of citizens to tell what they know.
Journalists like nothing better than exposing self-seeking behavior by special interests who care nothing for the public good.

In this case, they can find it by looking in the mirror.

Another reporter takes on the First Amendment argument:

Save the First Amendment--from Karl Rove
A man who taught with Rove, and considers him a friend, writes that in the Valerie Plame case, Rove is using journalists, and the First Amendment, "to operate without constraint, or to camouflage breaking the law." That's why neither reporters Cooper and Miller, nor their publications, should protect Rove (or anyone else) "through an undiscerning, blanket use of the First Amendment that weakens its protections by its gross misuse."

In 99.9 percent of cases I know, journalists must not break the bonds of appropriate confidentiality, to protect their ability to report, and to defend the First Amendment. Iíve testified in court to that end, and would do so again. But the Valerie Plame-CIA case that threatens jail time for reporters from Time and The New York Times this week is the exception that shatters the rule.
In this case, journalists as a community have been played for patsies by the presidentís chief strategist, Karl Rove, and are enabling him to abuse the First Amendment by their invoking it.
When we taught "Politics and the Press" together at The University of Texas at Austin seven years ago, Rove showed an amazing disdain for Texas political reporters. At the same time, he actively cultivated national reporters who could help him promote a Bush presidency.

In Texas, though he was called "the prime minister" to Gov. George W. Bush, it might have been "Lord," as in the divine, for when it came to politics and policy, it was Rove who gave, and Rove who took away. Little has changed since the Bush presidency; all roads still lead to Rove.

While it is reporters Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times who now face jail time, the retaliation came through Rove-uber-outlet Robert Novak, who blew the cover of Wilsonís wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame.

That is precisely why prosecutor Fitzgerald in this case must document the pattern of Roveís behavior, whether journalists published, or not.
Reporters with a gut fear of breaching confidential sources must fight like tigers to protect them. Rove, improving on Macchiavelli, has bet that reporters wonít rat their relationship with the administrationís most important political source. But neither reporters Cooper nor Miller, nor their publications, nor anyone in journalism should protect the behavior of Rove (or anyone else) through an undiscerning, blanket use of the First Amendment that weakens its protections by its gross misuse.

But it was the non-professional writer who took The New York Times to task for acting like Bu$hCo shills that caught me: [Slight rearrangement of text for clarity, and added links. Errors belong to me and not the author of the text, which is, except for some positioning, completely original.]

Dear NYT, Get it Straight. Miller and Cooper are Protecting a Possible Felon.

I sent the following letter to a reporter at The New York Times after reading "Spy at Center of Leak Case Still in Shadow". The Times changed the heading of the article to "Private Spy and Public Spouse Live at Center of Leak Case" after I wrote the letter.

RE: [July 5] ("Private Spy and Public Spouse Live at Center of Leak Case")

Dear Scott Shane,

In this article you seem to display an "attitude" about Mr. Wilson. You write: "the investigation into the leak of a covert C.I.A. officer's name has unfolded clamorously in the nation's capital, with partisan brawling on talk shows..." The only ones "brawling" are the right-wingers; Ambassador Wilson has handled himself with intelligence and dignity throughout.

Furthermore, let's get it straight about whom Judith Miller and Matt Cooper are protecting. They are not protecting a "whistleblower" who was giving reporters information about government corruption or criminality; the reporters are protecting a possible felon who purposely divulged the name of a covert CIA operative, who was working on nuclear proliferation.

The "two senior administration officials" the reporters are protecting are CULPRITS and possible felons, not heroic whistleblowers.
Then you write: "her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, has become a highly visible critic of the administration and promoted his memoirs." Why the gratuitous remark: "and promoted his memoirs"?

* Isn't it enough the president lied after being told he would be lying if he made the uranium assertion in his State of the Union speech?

* Isn't it enough Valerie Plame's many years of work went down the drain thanks to two "senior" administration officials?

* Isn't it bad enough that Valerie Plame's contacts and sources -- gained over a period of many years -- became useless to our intelligence efforts, and some of the contacts and sources were later murdered as a result of the "outing" of Valerie Plame's identity.

But we had to read this sneering remark about "and promoted his memoirs" -- why?

Does it matter to you that Valerie Plame's job was to halt the spread -- to terrorists -- of Weapons of Mass Destruction, nuclear weapons? That was her assignment. That's what we supposedly went to war to protect us from -- the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction to terrorists. But that seems to be of no interest to you; maybe it's just important to the rest of us.

You give us the name of the company Ms. Plame used as her CIA cover, but that CIA "cover" company -- which took years to set up so it could be believable -- is now kaput, thanks to the Bush administration "leaker" and Bob Novak.

Furthermore, the leaker and Bob Novak have put Valerie Plame's life in danger; she can no longer travel abroad, because agitated characters from terrorist groups might try to kill her.

You tell us of Ms. Plame's friend at the CIA who said, "With something like this, her career will never recover."

Exactly, you see the Bushites weren't born yesterday; they knew the way to "get" at Joe Wilson was by destroying his wife's career and endangering her life. It was a warning shot across the bow to anyone else who might contemplate telling the truth about this Bush administration.

Then you sneeringly write -- as if whatever parties one attends discredits one's word -- that "they were honored in late 2003 at a dinner at the guesthouse of the television producer Norman Lear, with guest list that included Warren Beatty."

What was the purpose of that sentence? It was nothing more than your attempt to make it look like Joe Wilson and his wife are just Hollywood types and not serious government officials. He was a career ambassador, and she worked under cover to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to terrorist groups.

What relevance does it have to their professional lives if they were at a party attended by Warren Beatty? Does that make them less serious people? Does that make it okay that "two senior [Bush] administration officials" outed a covert CIA operative?

You further write: " All agree that Mr. Wilson traveled to Niger in February 2002 at the C.I.A.'s request to assess reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium there. There the agreement ends."

No, that is NOT where the agreement ends. The White House acknowledged, after Ambassador Wilson's op-ed piece appeared in The New York Times, that they had been WRONG to put the 16 words in the State of the Union speech. CIA Director George Tenet had told the Bushites, the previous October, to remove the allegation from an earlier speech in Cincinnati and they had done so, because the information was bogus and based on a clumsy forgery that any idiot could have detected. Two other people, besides Joe Wilson, had told the Bushites the allegation was wrong and the information should not be used.

You give importance to the Bushites' assertion that "Mr. Wilson's trip was a junket orchestrated by his wife".

Hmm, first prize was a three-day trip to Niger; second prize was a two-week trip to Niger. In addition, Valerie Plame, following the birth of their twins, had been suffering from post-partum depression; I hardly think she would have been eager to have her husband leave her to go overseas. The care of young twins is never easy and when one factors in post-partum depression, it's not a good time to be left alone with their care.

You give emphasis to the assertion that Mr. Wilson is a Democrat.

How does that square with the fact that the first President Bush had nothing but praise for the ambassadorial work Mr. Wilson had done during his administration? Wilson was in the diplomatic corps; he was a nonpartisan ambassador with an expertise in that region of Africa, he was not political. Until the Bushites declared "war" on him.

A little less gossip and a little more real news in your article would have been welcome.

(name and address withheld)
A BuzzFlash Reader

Amen, Brother!

Perhaps when this brouhaha ends, the media can get together and propose what they would like to see in the way of source protection guidelines that define what their duties to our society are, balanced against the clear need to protect a source from retribution. Such guidlines are already in place for the confidentiality of doctors and lawyers, and as this case makes clear, there is also a need for something similar in our 'free' corporatized media. Should such a thing come about, then the corporatized (and compromised) 'free' media can be held accountable to its own words concerning its deportment in any future case of First Amendment v. Treasonous Criminality.

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