Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Privilege of Confidentiality

Initially my reaction to the jailing of Judith Miller was an aghast exclamation of, "What is going wrong in this country?", as America joined a prestigious, elite crowd of journalist-imprisoning nations like Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.

But I've changed my mind.

Yes, I believe in the freedom of the press. An empowered, unrestricted media is the best independent check and balance on the government. And I believe reporters should be able to offer confidentiality in exchange for candor on sensitive subjects.

But in this case, a crime was committed.

The information provided to reporters was not about a crime. It was classified information that, for reasons of national security, is illegal to reveal. The revelation itself was the crime.

The outing of Valerie Wilson in the press served no purpose; and the timing, coming when it did, gives a sure sense that the intent behind the release of the information was to discredit Joseph Wilson's report on whether Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger, to suggest that Wilson was not actually on an official government-sponsored fact-finding mission, but rather a fishing expedition arranged by his wife.

The stunt backfired; both the timing and the nature of the information only served to solidify suspicion that Wilson's report was too accurate for the White House's comfort.

My first thought was that we were seeing an overzealous prosecutor and an activist judge acting on behalf of a conservative government in an attempt to clamp down on the media.

However, I now see Judith Miller as standing in the way of an investigation into corruption at the highest levels of our government. When I wrote earlier that the press is our best independent check against the government, that's because they have the freedom to share information, not the right to withhold it.


p.p. said...

I agree with what the source leaked was confidential, but I think we should limit ourselves to that. (Personally, I think it was wrong for the journalist to publish that material, as it was a matter of national security and did jeopardize the live of the agent and her “handlers” in the field.)

Having that said, the center of what the journalist is arguing is the protection of all sources -- whether or not the information leaked is or is not confidential.

Hundreds of people who leak beneficial material on a daily basis are now going to think twice about revealing such information. Would Nixon have been toppled if the journalists would have had to release their source? What about in the corporate world?

Andy said...

Well, let's clarify that the journalist who's in jail is NOT the journalist who published the leak, which makes this all the more bizarre.

But see, there's a real distinct difference here. Nixon was toppled by people who took advantage of anonymity in order to protect their jobs while feeding evidence of criminal activity to the press.

And you know, I disagree that people will think twice about being candid with the press in exchange for anonymity. The only people who need to think twice about doing it are assholes like Karl Rove -- who broke the law and endangered national security operations. That's an activity we should all be willing to stop.

p.p. said...

I really haven't been following this case, so I am speaking generally re: the freedom of press and the protection of sources.

"And you know, I disagree that people will think twice about being candid with the press in exchange for anonymity." ??
This statement isn't realistic. People are always fearlful that they will lose their jobs if they go to the press with stories of bribery, corruption, or fraud.

Karl Rove is an exception, as he's a fat fuck who did what he did for pure malicious intent. We should not punish the ability of average joes to feel safe to report corruption due to the errors of people like Rove.

Steve said...

The question on my mind is, when does Karl Rove get his walking papers, or did I misunderstand when W. said the person found responsible would be fired?

Andy said...

People are always fearful that they will lose their jobs if they go to the press with stories of bribery, corruption, or fraud.

But Peter, this is exactly my point. This wasn't a leak about bribery corruption or fraud, this was an act of corruption all by itself. Yes people are nervous about sharing sensitive information; that's why they get anonymity. But Judith Miller isn't in jail because the government is retaliating against someone for embarrassing them. She's in jail because she's a witness to a federal crime and she's not talking.

Steve: I think you misunderestimated the President.

p.p. said...

But as I stated above, I am more concerned about the average joe, not people like Karl Rove. Ordinary people who report matters of corruption out number people like Karl Rove 10 to 1. Again, their ability to be protected should remain constant.