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You Reap What You Sow… January 21, 2006, 3:05 pm

Posted by quintapalus in Journalism.
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…from day one of L’affair de Plame (or for the lesser hip – The Valerie Plame leak case), people that could actually go beyond short sighted partisan sniping warned journalists and newspapers to be careful what they asked for. Since the investigation into the Plame leak would, on its surface, hurt the Bush administration and possibly take down Darth Sidious Karl Rove himself, reporters, who would normally fight to the end of the Earth against being forced to reveal their sources under threat of imprisonment, suddenly didn’t mind that journalist Judith Miller was getting the harsh treatment and didn’t rise up en masse to defend their colleague. They were so focused on “getting Bush” and the potential of breaking the next Watergate (which is every journalist’s orgiastic wet dream) that they could not see the forest for the trees. They didn’t actually consider that the shoe might someday find itself on the other foot, with the precedent, established in the Plame case, that journalists are not immune to being forced to reveal their sources.

One of the vertebrae in the backbone of journalism is being able to get critical information from tepid sources. These sources are easier to get information from if they have trust in the journalist that their identity will be protected. If that sense of trust of protection is erased or compromised in any way, I think it is easy to say that those sources will dry up and go away all together. After all, what Pentagon employee would want to leak some information about the military if the journalist that they are speaking to can be compelled under penalty of imprisonment to reveal their source. Unless you are dealing with the biggest true believer journalist ever, you just know that the info will come out and the source will lose their job and face prosecution. It would be the end of investigative journalism as well know it.
Unlike some individual states, there are no federal statutes that provide protection for journalists against being compelled to reveal their sources, but holding journalists in contempt is rarely if ever done. At least, that was the case right up to L’affair de Plame. Like many other people at the time, when the clamoring came from newspapers and individual journalists alike to get to the bottom of the Plame leak, even if it meant compelling other journalists to give up their sources, I immediately thought “be careful what you wish for. One day, and a day surely sooner than later, there will be an anonymously sourced story targeting the government or another powerful group where the journalists will immediately get subpoenaed. And, because of the precedent set in the Plame leak case, the journalists or their bosses won’t be able to fight it.” This is the classic slippery slope; this is what happens when you let partisanship trump your principles. Like all good stories, this one is full of irony: journalists will have been complicit in their own downfall.

Okay, that was a long lead in; now to the story. Surely, I thought that the NSA surveillance case would be the first example of the “Plame precedent” being used. While that will probably happen, we see another case that beats it to first base and sure enough, like a well scripted story, it will be the case that was created from the case in L’affair de Plame: the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on charges of perjury and obstruction.

The Washington Post is reporting today that the lawyers for Scooter Libby will indeed be issuing subpoenas to several journalists in his defense:

“Libby Team to Subpoena Media Defense Plans to Go After Journalists’ Notes in CIA Leak Case”

By Carol D. Leonnig Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, January 21, 2006

Attorneys for Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff told a federal court yesterday that they plan to subpoena several journalists and news organizations to obtain their notes and other information they consider useful in defending their client from perjury charges. The plan for defending I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby is likely to substantially delay his trial and create another round of tense First Amendment battles over whether a court can compel reporters to turn over information about the confidential sources in Libby’s criminal case.

Just to twist the knife in the back of the point I am trying to make, I’m going to get a little ridiculous and question myself:
“But Quintapalus,” you ask, “aren’t journalists immune to this sort of thing???”

Well, the thing about that is:

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s two-year investigation into whether administration officials knowingly disclosed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame led to Libby’s indictment in October on charges that he lied to investigators and obstructed the probe. A crucial evidence-gathering tool in the case was Fitzgerald’s successful effort to force a handful of journalists — under threat of incarceration — to testify under oath about their confidential conversations with Libby and other sources. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail before she agreed to comply.

“Wait, isn’t this what journalists were okay with in that case and won’t their support for it then completely undermine any resistance to it now??”

Man, I am so happy you asked that question because I have the answer: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s easy to see where it goes from here. When potential sources know that the only thing between their anonymity and being revealed is an elite journalist throwing in the towl after their 2nd week of prison meals, they aren’t going to come forward anymore. Without sources, investigative journalism will be handicapped to point of being useless. The journos have killed the goose that laid all those golden eggs. And, the worst part is that they threw it all away just for a petty, partisan and short sighted gain; they just wanted to “get Bush.”

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Comments»

1. Bullet - January 22, 2006, 2:30 am

You seem to be confused about the basic facts. Bob Novak on his own, without any arm twisting from the legal system revealed the identity of a CIA agent, the two administration officials that gave him that information did so of their own free will and in so doing committed a crime. Judith Miller lied to a federal procsecutor and decided to cooperate when those procscutors found incriminatinf e-mails between her and Scooter Libby. That journalists have ever been immune from prosecution when they have been part of the crime or witness to same is either a point of ignorance or a strawman, no such protection has ever been afforded journalists.
Two White House aides have given accounts to a special prosecutor about how reporters first told them the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said. Aides say one thing regarding a felony, reporters say something else. No immunity for reporters in this case.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame ( this was a lie). Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn’t tell Libby of Plame’s identity, the person said. Ruusert was an acessory to information about a felony, no imunity or protection of sources is applicable.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak, according a person familiar with the matter. Novak, who was first to report Plame’s name and connection to Wilson, has said that the name was given to him, he did not offer Plame’s name up to Rove.

These discrepancies may be important because Fitzgerald is investigating whether Libby, Rove or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation. The Plame case has its genesis in whether any administration officials violated a 1982 law making it illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a covert intelligence agent.

While complete objectivity is indeed impossible, assigning motives not founded in facts re the press in regards to “getting” Bush seems unsupported by any facts, especially since we had eight tears of bashing President Clinton, a 73 million dollar investigation that turned up nothing, and a press that was all too willing to print or broadcast any unfounded accusations at Clinton.

We all may not have the same truth, but we all have the same facts. Facts have a nasty way of not discriminating between political parties or the motives of reporters.

2. quilsn - January 22, 2006, 7:24 am

By definition, Plame was not a covert operative – the only ones protected by the classification of that staus, i.e. she had not been in that status within the past 5 years. No crime to investigate in the first place – and no guilt in revealing her employment at a desk in Langley.


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