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August 13, 2004


The Kid

On a related note, today’s Wall Street Journal belatedly reminds the elite media that they should be careful of what they wish for.

Isn't it amazing what a raft of federal subpoenas will do to concentrate the media mind?

Back when columnist Robert Novak looked to be the main target of special federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, our professional press ethicists were tut-tutting about how they'd never "hide" behind journalistic privilege to abet a "crime." But now that a federal judge has held Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in contempt for refusing to tell a grand jury the sources for his own Valerie Plame story, suddenly the eyebrows furrow and talk turns to the threat to the First Amendment.
The media powers now wringing their collective hands at this prospect have no one to blame but themselves. As these columns pointed out from the start, in their enthusiasm for a criminal investigation that liberals saw as a twofer--discrediting a conservative columnist as well as the Bush Administration--they were really painting bull's-eyes on other reporters. We await comment from Geneva Overholser, Orville Schell and all the other journalistic sages who were so quick to find Mr. Novak unworthy of the usual press protections.

The point is that the road to this legal jeopardy was paved by liberal intentions. No one can honestly claim he didn't see it coming, either. In his letter to this newspaper decrying our editorial on the subject, Joe Wilson's attorney made the direction crystal clear by citing the Wen Ho Lee case: Mr. Lee's attorneys are now asking a judge in another court to hold in contempt reporters who have refused to disclose their sources for stories fingering Mr. Lee as a spy. As for the Plame case, it's not just Mr. Cooper feeling the prosecutor's breath on his neck. Subpoenas were also issued to NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert and the Washington Post's Walter Pincus--and these are doubtless not the last.

Worst of all, it's unnecessary. The more we've learned over the past year, the more it's clear that all the talk about a "crime" in the Plame leak was simply the standard Beltway practice of trying to criminalize political differences. All along Mr. Novak has maintained that he only named Valerie Plame to explain how the CIA could have assigned an Administration critic such as her husband, Joe Wilson, the sensitive task of investigating allegations about Iraq's interest in purchasing uranium from Niger.

For his part, Mr. Wilson has categorically and noisily declared his wife had nothing to do with his assignment. As he put it to Time magazine, "That is bulls__t. That is absolutely not the case." A recently released, bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report cites evidence showing otherwise, however. And Senator Kit Bond notes that when committee investigators asked Ms. Plame whether she'd recommended her husband, she had a sudden memory loss. "I honestly do not recall if I suggested it to my boss . . ."

To put it another way, even Ms. Plame doesn't back up her husband's story, and the committee's report that she was involved goes a long way toward confirming that there was never a crime here: Her name was disclosed to expose the politics behind an assignment, not to out an undercover operative and endanger national security. If the political coloring of this case were different, the same press ethicists attacking Mr. Novak would doubtless be hailing him as a courageous "whistleblower."

In recent decades we in the news business have depended less on legal privilege in protecting ourselves from being compelled to give up our sources than on a healthy recognition by most prosecutors that jailing reporters for standing on principle is not wise. What has been unleashed by the federal investigation into the Novak leak now threatens to alter that balance decisively. And those who only now decry the implications for First Amendment freedoms are coming very late to the game.

I’ve lost the link, but in a related context one journalist even went so far as to assert that a reporter should not be made to testify about an accident or incident she saw on her way home from work. Continuing that logic (?) just a bit, should a reporter even report a crime - were I to mug a reporter, would his ethics allow him to identify me in a police lineup? Beats me…

Back to the main point: let’s hear from the media elites who demanded full disclosure – it’s their turn to tell what they know.

creepy dude

Well it was the CIA, not the press, that referred the case to the DOJ.And why doesn't the WSJ just call up Fitzgerald and explain why to him why the whole thing is "unnecessary"? And who cares what Novak's intentions were-he's presumably not the target of the investigation. Nor do I believe anyone ever thought Novak was the target. That is just total bullshit. Who needed to be "frogmarched" again? And...well why go on? Man that is just a POS editorial.


I wonder if the special prosecutor is just unable or unwilling to say "there's no there, there"?

It was known around Washington that Wilson's wife was a CIA analyst. If she was truly (or even just technically) covert, who would have known? Inadvertently outing her (as I understand it, would not be a crime). So, if a White House source provided her name to one or more reporters to explain the selection of Wilson for the Niger assignment, it might be politically damaging, but not criminal.

Novak also claims that the CIA wasn't very enthusiastic in its desire to keep Plame's identity a secret indicating (to him) that there wasn't any risk to her.

creepy dude

And Ashcroft recused himself because...

Jim Glass

"Boy, will their jaws drop when they read the rest of the Bill of Rights (past the bit about press freedom) and get to the Fifth Amendment."

Now, now ... Sulzberger knows the part of the Constitution that counts, the part that protects his business.

No doubt he's generally sympathetic to the entire Bill of Rights -- but we all have our priorities, and if you are a newspaper person in a crowded lifeboat the Fifth can go overboard with the Tenth.


It would be a shame if a NYT reporter went to jail for contempt of court.


Would you please re-write this Plame-related post without being so snide, snarky and smugly witty? The way it's written now, it's utterly incomprehensible. I can't understand what the issues are, or what your jokes are, or what you're getting at. Try writing a simple series of expository paragraphs for a change. I'm not kidding at all. You seem to have plenty of information to share, but somehow you can't get it down in an accesible form of English.


so snide, snarky and smugly witty...

That's not a bug, it's a feature!

You will especially enjoy Wonkette.


TM, did you notice the email?


Can anyone explain why Novak is not being subpeoned when he wrote the story?

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