Dana Linzer of the WaPo answered questions about sacked CIA officer Mary McCarthy in an online WaPo chat. I am still spinning from this one:
Tokyo, Japan: Hello, Ms. Linzer-You said earlier "we don't know exactly what was said and to whom ". That isn't entirely correct. Dana Priest would know the nature of her contacts with McCarthy, and Dana Priest is a Washington Post reporter. Why can't she just tell us? After all, she seems to feel comfortable exposing secrets. What are the ethics on this?
Dafna Linzer: Hi, you're up late. The compact reporters enter into with sources for information that they wouldn't get otherwise is often one of confidentiality, especially on issues of national security. That is the pact that Dana entered into with her sources.
But... but... if Ms. McCarthy was *not* a source for Dana Priest, then there is no compact, yes? Why can't Ms. Priest simply say, "Although I will never discuss my sources, I will occasionally discuss my non-sources; in this case, Mary McCarthy was not a source to me in my Pulitzer Prize winning secret prison reporting."
Well. Just to engage in a bit of forward planning, and as a general disclaimer, let me stake out the following position as the official Just One Minute policy, and express my fervent hope that media figures will oblige me by adhering to it - if I am ever being pilloried in the press for having been a secret, illegal source, when in fact I was *not* a secret, illegal source, feel free to speak up on my behalf!
Don't feel like you are protecting me by letting me twist in the wind. Thanks.
CAVEAT: Yes, there may be some odd situation where eliminating me as a suspect points the finger definitively at someone else. Or, aliens may abduct me! In either case, I exhort the media to report using their best judgment.
UPDATE: In a Taranto-Maguire smackdown, I know where my money is! Mr. Taranto makes it clear that my caveat was insufficieintly vague by writing this as a justification for a universal "no comment about my sources" policy:
If a reporter is willing to say "X is not my source," then his refusal to say the same of Y fingers Y as the source.
Well, yes. The key is whether Ms. Priest can address this one odd trifecta - a Pulitzer Prize winning article, a fired employee, and credible allegations that the sacked employee was her source - without establishing a precedent that will put her, or other reporters subject to her example, on the spot.
I'm not a fan of "slippery slopes" arguments, and, like the Supremes in Bush v. Gore, Ms. Priese might declare a clarification of the McCarty situation to be non-precedential. However, a consistent "no comment" is clearly safest. A related point is that Ms. Priest's compact is arguably not with Ms. McCarthy specifically, but with all her sources.
MORE: File this answer under "Do You Want The truth? You Can't Handle The Truth!":
Arlington, Va.: I'm sure you'll get this one from several chatters, but why did The Post choose to leave out the political donations to Kerry and other democratic fundraisers made by Ms. McCarthy from the Saturday profile and follow-up articles? After your own Howard Kurtz blasted The Post over the weekend and in his Monday column [here] and chat, I was expecting some mention in either today's article or in a "clarification" from the editor. Don't your readers deserve ALL of the relevant facts?
Dafna Linzer: You're absolutely right - I'm getting a lot of questions about this. I disagree with Howie on this one. I think in his chat he said her campaign contributions go to motive but I don't know yet what she's done so I'm not sure how to assign motive here. Intelligence officers do not check their citizenship at the gates of Langley and like all government employees they are free to vote and make contributions - all of which is very much apart from their committment to government service and to fulfilling the policies of any president.
But we are living in partisan times and people want a partisan, political motive and explanation for everything. I don't think that's reasonable. Should we publish the campaign contributions of every person who testifies before Congress, every person who briefs a president, every person who writes a policy paper or plays any role in governmnt whatsoever or who is ever quoted in a story? We could, the information is public. But I don't want to confuse readers or issues by throwing that into the mix unless I understand its relevance. We have reported that she worked in Clinton's NSC and whom she has worked with and will continue to write about it.
Emphasis added. Well, then - Ms. Linzer tells us that Ms. McCarthy worked on the NSC under Clinton. Just why is that more clearly relevant than the fact that her ex-boss, Rand Beers, was a senior adviser to Kerry while she wrote big checks to the Kerry campaign?
Perhaps she could explain how the one fact goes into the mix while the other does not.