Thursday, August 19, 2004

"The central question for a journalist in the Plame case"

Don Wycliff, the Chicago Tribune's public editor asks

Was "outing" Valerie Plame--in violation of federal law and at real potential risk to her life and health and that of any of those she worked with--such an important public interest that I would have promised some White House political shark to go to jail if necessary for the privilege?

It's not even a close call. I don't think anyone can reasonably argue that the American public is better off for knowing of Plame's CIA connection. (But that never was the point for the alleged leaker in the Bush administration anyway, was it?)


To the extent that [journalists] argue we should be exempt from the normal obligations of citizens -- to testify in a case like the Valerie Plame outing, for example -- we invite the anger of our fellow citizens and encourage their contempt for the shroud in which we wrap ourselves, the 1st Amendment.

That's not to say that there aren't cases that would justify a promise to go to jail to protect a confidence, and would merit every dime a newspaper or other journalistic entity could spend defending that promise.

The Wen Ho Lee case, in which a judge Wednesday held five reporters in contempt of court, may be one of those. But I suspect that if we were more discriminating about such cases up front, we would find ourselves at the barricades less often afterward.

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