Saturday, July 02, 2005

Civil disobedience, duty, or compliance with the law?

It's not getting any easier being a journalist these days. I guess it depends on who you are. Take the case of Matthew Cooper. He wrote an article about why the Bush administration may have deliberately leaked the identity of a CIA agent. It gets pretty confusing, because todayyesterday I read about how the editor of Time agreed (to the dismay of journalists everywhere) to give away the name of the anonymous source that clued Cooper in to a federal investigation when Cooper was prepared to go to jail to protect his source.

The success of the investigation would seem to be in the interest of truth and justice, but a major publication willing to shatter a journalists promise of anonymity means the journalists word is worth very little. It also means that sources will almost certainly face retaliation for telling the public what it may desperately need to know. Check out this 2004 article by Slate editor Jack Shafer (and Cooper friend) that explains some of the background of the federal investigation and the law that might have been broken in leaking Plame's identity.

It was mentioned in the Times article that "legal experts said yesterday that they knew of no other instance in modern journalistic history in which a major news organization announced that it would disclose the identities of its confidential sources in response to a government subpoena." It's something of a big deal I guess. I wonder if some Bush apologists would be complaining of liberal bias despite so many being against this disclosure. Some accused the paper to be acting in the name of Time shareholders to avoid the fines with which the judge threatened the magazine (and other business interests) but the editor has denied it, separately saying that they were not above the law.

I still don't think I understand what's going on... BTW, got the link to wsj.com from instapundit's post on the topic. He links to his editorial in USA Today about his views on journalistic privilege.

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