L'affaire Novak

Usnewsleakprobe6krt_2 Time Magazine to talk. The New York Times to jail.

The two reporters facing prison for not revealing who leaked information about an undercover CIA agent went their separate ways Wednesday. Time's Matthew Cooper woke up ready to go to jail - only to be told by his confidential source that it was OK to tell authorities who it was who told him Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson, was an intelligence operative. Cooper told a federal judge he will talk to the grand jury, though not to the public. His publisher's statement.

Meanwhile, Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who also refused to ID the leaker, was ordered to jail until October. Miller stood up, hugged her lawyer, and was led off. Her publisher's statement.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating who in the administration leaked Plame's identity. Her name was disclosed in a column by Robert Novak days after her husband discredited part of President Bush's justification for going to war with Iraq.

Many words are being spent on the moral, professional and legal issues for journalists. The Times sided with protecting confidential sources. Time said it was right to keep quiet - until ordered to talk. The prosecutor said the law doesn't shield reporters from giving up sources in such a matter. Many asked why Novak doesn't face jail. Others assumed he must have already talked, although he is remaining mum.

In the Huffington Post, Lawrence O'Donnell fingers Karl Rove as the leaker. Rove's lawyer denies it.

In the Boston Globe, Robert Kuttner smells politics.

At TPM Cafe, Wilson, himself, blames the Bush administration's culture of unaccountability.

One novel suggestion -- out the leaker with style. Charley Stough writes to the Poynter Institute media blog known as Romenesko:

Note to NYT and Time: Tell who ratted out Valerie Plame. The Government says you have to tell. But do it right. A Bob Novak column is riding on it.

Announce it from a bunting-draped speaker's on the Ellipse. Have two companies of paratroopers sitting behind you. Invite cable, network and talk show coverage. Open with a barbershop quartet for harmony, a tap-dancing juggler for style, and (this is the zinger for the front page pix) a ventriloquist with a fat wooden dummy. Then tell it.

My bet is that, before the flag-twirling majorettes and their glockenspiel backup are halfway through their routine, even before the golf cart raffle, someone will run across the street from the White House and breathlessly announce that he's shocked, shocked and the whole case is going away. A couple of knee-breaking guards can stall the flunky at the stairs until you tell it. But tell it. Just do it right.

Squeezing reporters a trend of our times?

Time editor in chief Norman Pearlstine complied with the prosecutor's demand of Cooper's notes. Pearlstine took much heat for that. But not from Buzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis, who described Pearlstine's actions as the hard and right things to do.

Edward Wasserman, a professor of journalism ethics at Washington & Lee University, has called Time's caving a "disaster" for the media. "And all for what?" he asked the Washington Post. "To support the principle that the political hacks who used a compliant columnist to attack a whistle-blower and destroy his wife's career deserve to have their identities concealed."

Philadelphia's All-Spin Zone cries some big crok tears for Miller, whose reporting about weapons of mass destruction prompted ASZ to headline its take, "Mrs. Chalabi Goes to Jail." (Allegation behind the head: she listened so much to the spin from the Iraqi National Congress that she was 'married' to its leader's point of view.) The Zone opines:  "I do not wish incarceration on Judy Miller, no matter how snarky I've gotten. My beef with her is not her cheerleading of and for the war, and her pimping for Ahmed Chalabi. No, my beef is that she's sheilding a traitor on the order of Julius Rosenberg, and that she's not thinking through the larger implications of her pigheadedness."

Across the way, at the Daily News's Attytood, Will Bunch says Go directly To Jail! He reasons: That's because Judy Miller's actions in recent years -- a pattern that includes this case -- have been the very antithesis of what we think journalism is and should be all about.  It is not about protecting sources at any cost, Bunch says. The roles is closer to what Peter Finley Dunne described as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, Bunch says. And Miller has been a little too comfy for Attytood. (Read a Washington Post piece on her role in the war.)

Ex-reporter Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla says Miller should have avoided giving anonymity to the source in the first place. And she's uncorks a wicked theory:

Miller’s no fool; she understood the lesson of the Martha Stewart case: When you find yourself covered with mud, there’s nothing like a brief stint in a minimum-security prison to restore your old luster.

Posted 07/06/2005 08:09:44 PM

Great piece, and great quotes all around. But where do you stand on this issue, Dan? I noticed this in your sidebar: "It was a wise man who said news is a conversation. Let's talk. Please comment on what moves you. If you email me, I might want to quote from it. Unless you tell me it's private. I honor confidences."

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/06/2005 08:31:03 PM

We need a law that would protect the shielding of people who blow whistles about bad things, such as abuses of power and corruption. But we don't have that law now. The easiest answer is don't give anonymity for this sort of errand, and don't become someone's delivery boy. But if you promise to keep a secret, you keep that secret. And you go to jail. And then you write a book and if you're lucky someone good will play you. Except that maybe no one will care.

That Dude from Philly
Posted 07/07/2005 12:46:20 PM

MIller is standing on false principle. The source has already given his ok to release info.

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