Tuesday, July 05, 2005

First Amendment

The Dharma Bums have always thought that Time's Matt Cooper and NYT's Judith Miller should reveal their source in the Valerie Plame case. It is hard to articulate why, particularly for me. In our home office is a Certificate of Appreciation that was given to me upon my retirement as the Assistant Director of Student Media at a west coast university. It states:
"This certificate is given with immeasurable appreciation for all of your contributions, in gratitude for your non-negotiable support of the First Amendment, in admiration of your modeling excellence, in respect for your dedication to higher education, and for the honor of working in collaboration with you."

"Non-negotiable support of the First Amendment"-- That was my calling card at my last job. I defended the right to free speech and to a free press nearly every day. It was in the job description, and I not only internalized the message, I believed it utterly, and still do.

Yet, DPR and I both think that Cooper and Miller should reveal their anonymous source. We have always thought the shield law was meant to protect reporters from naming an anonymous source who at great risk to themselves becomes a whistleblower. The anonymous source in the Plame case is not a whistleblower, but is using the protections of the First Amendment to cover a criminal act. There is a huge difference here. In fact, we think that hiding behind the First Amendment in this case merely distorts its intention.

I recommend this editorial by Bill Israel in E & P. He says it much more eloquently than I ever could. Here's a small excerpt:

But neither charm nor political power should be permitted to subvert the First Amendment, which is intended to insure that reporters and citizens burrow fully and publicly into government, not insulate its players from felony, or reality.

Reporters with a gut fear of breaching confidential sources must fight like tigers to protect them. But neither reporters Cooper nor Miller, nor their publications, nor anyone in journalism should protect the behavior of Rove (or anyone else) through an undiscerning, blanket use of the First Amendment that weakens its protections by its gross misuse.

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