Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Valerie Plame Connection

Valerie Plame... The investigation in regards to who in the White House leaked her name is still ongoing. Two journalists are now facing jail time for contempt charges for refusing to divulge the name of the leaker/s in court. There is the question, should a journalists be forced to testify and break a vow of confidentiality? In analysis of this particular case, I believe the court should be allowed to hold the two in contempt if they do not divulge the leaker's name. This is why:

The public good is served by journalists being able to claim immunity from being forced to divulge who a confidential informant is. It allows an inside informant to become a whistle blower about governmental wrongdoing without fear of repercussions and allows wrongdoing to be exposed. 49 states and the District of Columbia have such "shield" laws intended to protect journalists from being forced to divulge confidential informants. Without this protection for reporters, the Deep throat would probably never come forward, many politicians taking bribes would never be caught, etc. But the case at hand is very different because the media is being used to commit a crime, not stop one. In most cases, the informant is trying to expose a crime or general wrongdoing within the government. Here, the person or persons who exposed Valerie Plame were not trying to correct an injustice, but used the media to create one, and in the process, may have committed a crime, not expose one. The reason the shield exists is to protect the public good, but nothing in the public good is protected when the reporter is protecting a potential criminal. The outing of Valerie Plame did not expose corruption or any other wrongdoing. It outed a CIA operative and it jeopardized national security. The immunity a journalist enjoys cannot be absolute or else abuse will ensue (as seen here). The Courts should not protect the media and the media should not protect the informants when the media is being used as a tool to commit a crime.

1 comment:

Boomr said...

I agree. In fact, I think the two journalists should not only be held in contempt, but they should be prosecuted for violations of various national security laws.

I'm a wholehearted supporter of free speech and an independent media, but like all other enumerated and unenumerated rights in this country, there needs to be a corresponding responsibility attached to such rights to use them wisely. If the two journalists had released the names of spies in, let's say, 1943, then they would have been prosecuted for treason, tried quickly, and probably hanged. A free press necessarily comes with the requirement that such freedoms be exercised through responsible journalism, and every piece of information that crosses a journalist's desk is not "fit to print" to the public.

I'm not saying that journalists should not be allowed to comment on matters of national security -- that's too much of the dictatorial mandate that we see coming from the Bush administration. But I will say that there are many things that our government does -- and should do -- that should NEVER be revealed to the public. And the intelligence business, especially the limited "humint" capabilities that we have, should not be a part of the public record.

Like Dingo said, the protection of journalists from revealing their sources is intended to protect THE SOURCE from retaliation by those about which the source speaks. In this case, such protection does not apply, and such protection would actually be both a federal and a state crime. Keep 'em in jail.