Thin Line

Tim McGivern
3 min read
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Gross misuse. These are strange times, and there's nothing stranger than the state of our nation's mainstream corporate media and its insidious and self-destructive relationship with the White House. In a July 7 New York Times article entitled “Reporter Jailed After Refusing to Name Source,” Adam Liptak reports on the incarceration of his coworker, Times investigative reporter Judy Miller. Liptak even quotes his editor and publisher in what amounted to an embarrassing attempt to elicit sympathy for Miller, because she refused to divulge the name of the White House official who “outed” covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to several media sources, thus committing what I would call a treasonous felony.

The article buries the lead, which is that Time magazine's Matt Cooper will avoid jail time because he turned over his notes to federal prosecutors, who are trying to unmask the traitor. Turns out Bush's political strategist Karl Rove was Cooper's source, a small point mentioned in the 21st paragraph of the Times' article.

Meanwhile, here's what Judy Miller said in her defense, before being sentenced to potentially three months in jail: “The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries, but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know.”

True, when it comes to protecting a reporter's First Amendment right against government oppression, censorship or corruption, no reporter should ever divulge a confidential source. But Miller seems to miss the point, because that is precisely not what this is about. It's a government official trying to use the press to attack a government critic by committing a treasonous felony and then trying to hide behind the shadow of a journalist's First Amendment rights and presumed responsibilities. As I said, these are strange times.

My point is best articulated by Bill Israel, author of “Forget Confidentiality, Out Rove” in last week's Editor & Publisher. Israel, interestingly, taught a course entitled “Politics and the Press” with Karl Rove at UT-Austin and said he “genuinely treasures” his friendship with Rove. “Reporters with a gut fear of breaching confidential sources must fight like tigers to protect them. 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.”

Following the revelation last week that Rove was Cooper's source, the White House held four separate press briefings and, as of July 9, guess how many members of the White House press corps asked about Rove's involvement in the Plame case? Not one.

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