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July 10, 2005

C-SPAN has cleared my mind a little

A couple of thoughts as I hurtle across these Unites States on my way to Seattle.

First, God love C-Span. I need to retract part of my rant regarding Judith Miller. I watched a debate last night recorded in November of 2004 at Boston College in which she was a participant and I was heartily informed. It turns out that she never published an article revealing an operatives identity, so I was a little harsh. I also that that I was so far convinced on this topic that I was incredibly amazed that I was moved a little toward compassion for the "No Protection Clause" side of the aisle, not by either of the two lawyers on the panel mind you, but by the student debater, whose ideas and arguments certainly did give me pause.

Granted, some of them were a little weak, as when he made allusion to 'bloggers and associated them to Journalists, which many journalists and ‘bloggers have already addressed (Radosh and Wonketter just to name a couple off the top of my head). For the most part, whoever, he made strong, convincing arguments for his side. The Asst. DA (all of the names were written down, and subsequently left on my desk at home, so I'm going to be vague here until I get back to Detroit and can insert them) was also convincing, but I got the feeling that she was preaching versus trying to persuade, and that doesn't really wash with us unconverted.

So I've realigned my thoughts on this matter somewhat.

My opinion of Judith Miller has gone up significantly since the realization that she didn't actually write anything. It will continue to go up as I research this more if she didn’t write it because her ethics regarding the safety of the operative forbade it. We’ll see.

It's certainly a grayer area now for me, because what comes out of the argument is that I think the journalists certainly do need protection, but I also think that there would need to be a serious analysis of the checks and balances that go along with certain immunities. I was convinced that for the most part, today's system does work, threatening jail time certainly will help weed out the true sources over the fabricated and the worthwhile stories from the tripe, but I also agree that with today's US government only an uncontrolled and unfavored press will truly communicate to and for the people. The current establishments trend toward secrecy and Orwellian spin has me so terrified, it honestly does keep me up some nights. I’m so annoyed that more people don’t realize what they willingly give up and aren’t likely to get back any time soon. This, however, is a rant for another time.

I thought about some of the arguments and it doesn't seem to me that they are, technically, exclusive. If both sides honestly wanted to create a system that encouraged honesty and truth while offering the protection to sources that wanted to do the right thing, but feared (on whatever level) for their well being, it could be done.

Other professions have specific identifiers that specify that they are eligible to offer protection, most of them being official documentation revolving around scholastic accomplishment or religious piety. It doesn't seem to me to be too restrictive to suggest that the only people who could offer this specific protection of anonymity to their sources would be degreed journalists. Into this program we require certain things be topics of serious study (ethics...?), and that anyone can write copy for any publication or appear on a news show, but only those with the degrees can guarantee anonymity to their sources. Build into this clauses for eminent threat, a la doctors, psychotherapists and the clergy, and checks and balances requiring editorial responsibility and notation/documentation on behalf of the journalists’ employers (be they permanent or freelance) and I think this problem can solved, or at least addressed in a reasonable and effective manner.

I still want to see the people responsible for revealing the operatives identity pistol whipped in a public square, but that, too, might be a little harsh…or not.

Posted by Chuck Charbeneau at July 10, 2005 10:42 PM

Well, I would have commented had I seen it in time but you beat me to it.

As you noted below, there certainly is a law forbidding government officials from revealing confidential sources. That's the sick part: That's what this whole thing is supposed to be about. Miller is being subpoenaed for her knowledge about the leaker, not because of anything she wrote. And yet, somehow politically its been twisted from an investigation of traitors in the White House (some people are fingering Karl Rove here) to a witchhunt on journalists. Sort of like the way an investigation about real estate turned into an investigation of the nations most politically expensive blowjob.

Two things that bother me.
1) She is being subpoenaed because of her knowledge about a crime. The Supremes have ruled on this that there is no privelege for a journalist to protect a criminal because they are a source. The problem (or the distinction) that I see in the Plame affair is that in this case the crime was "being" a source. The source is wanted for providing information, which is what sources do, and I see that as a distinction from someone who is wanted for say bank robbery and then tells a journalist and tries to claim anonymity. It is being a confidential source that caused the crime, and not a criminal agreeing to be a source. If it goes through it seems a short distance to enacting "anti-Deep Throat" laws in the bureau and white house, which would eliminate leaking altogether. And while I share your disgust for someone who would reveal a confidential source, I think we agree on the truism that sunshine is the best disenfectant, and the loss of leaking in government would be very bad indeed for democracy.

2)It is really uncertain whether Plame genuinely fits the criteria of the law under question (which is incredibly broad, and not too far from an anti-Deep Throat clause as is). It has been seriously under-reported, but here's a slate column by Jack Shafer ( ). Pop Quiz: At the time she was "outed" as a "confidential" source, where was Valerie Plame working? At CIA Headquarters in Langely in a desk job. Pretty pitiful cover, really. Like smuggling cocaine in trucks that say, "Cocaine Inside" with the hopes that the DEA would be too embarrassed if they were wrong. It still smells like retribution to me, and I think the leaker should be made to pay the political costs of sending a message of intimidation to Joseph Wilson by targeting his wife. But I'm not convinced it was illegal, which makes what they're doing to Miller even more upsetting.

PS: I suspect Miller skipped printing the story because she didn't think there was anything interesting there, or couldn't sell it or spin it well, rather than for idealistic reasons. If you'll recall, she was one of the loudest voices being continually duped by Chalabi and wrote dozens of columns support the WMD claims prior (and even post) invasion. That still doesn't mean she deserves to go to jail, though.

Posted by: ish at July 10, 2005 11:32 PM

Yeah. I have this feeling that Plame was riding a desk becuse her name was already in the wind. Of course, that is only speculation.

Watching that debate cleared my mind a little about the whole thing, even given the unknowns surrounding the ordeal. I'd have to say that I'm interesting in hearing a continuation of the debate regarding the protection of sources, if for no other reason than to keep the privacy, secrecy, 1st amendment situation in the forefront for a pico second or two more.

Posted by: Chuck Charbeneau at July 11, 2005 12:01 AM

Well, it definitely appears that Rove is indeed the leaker, which could make things interesting. It also appears his purpose was not so much to intimidate Wilson as to discredit him, saying he got the job through nepotism.

It is still highly questionable whether Plame actually fits the definitions in the statute of a "covert" operative. As this article points out, it seems like the CIA would have fought a little harder when Novak actually called them if she were.

Posted by: ish at July 12, 2005 10:32 PM