Monday, July 18, 2005

What? You Want *Tears*?

Some news agencies and columnists seem shocked that the U.S. public is indifferent to the incarceration of Judith Miller, for her refusal to obey a lawful court order that she disclose her source(s) in relation to the "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame. David Broder suggests that the moral of the story is that reporters need to be more careful when selecting their sources - but that doesn't apply to Miller (at least in this context) as she didn't run a story on Plame. She obtained information from sources which revealed Plame's identity as a CIA operative. To the extent that some people are less sympathetic to Miller because of her history of cultivating dubious anonymous sources, and printing stories based upon their "disclosures" which ultimately proved to be false, I don't think that explains the public indifference to Miller's incarceration, or the possibility that it might be extended by virtue of criminal contempt charges.

The public has a natural skepticism of "anonymous sources", and with good cause. A lot of misinformation, and a lot of injustice, has resulted from the abuse of anonymity. When a reporter asserts that she will go to jail rather than disclose her source, the public can reasonably be expected to consider the actual downside of disclosure. Not the "chicken little" downside, where we are immediately propelled down a slippery slope to a point where nobody dares to provide information to reporters under cover of anonymity. But an actual downside - the here and now, "in this specific case" downside, which can be weighed against the benefit of disclosure.

In the case of the "outing" of Plame, the "downside" of disclosure is that the people who leaked Plame's identity will become known. In a best-case scenario, if you accept the word of the Bush Administration's spin doctors, Plame herself had limited value as an operative. But it isn't just about Plame - it is everybody who had contact with Plame during her covert work, and everybody associated with the company she ostensibly worked for, which was also unmasked as a CIA operation. And while I doubt that the typical citizen has thought through all of the ramifications of the disclosure, I don't think that there is much sympathy at all for the people Miller is protecting. This is not a situation where a leak helped unmask government deception, government corruption, or crimes by government officials. This is a situation where the corrupt, deceptive, and/or criminal conduct is the leak itself.

Am I surprised that Miller, her appeals exhausted, her justification for her refusal to testify (she has a release, but it might have been coerced) tenuous, and the principle for which she ostensibly stands (advancing the ability of the media to uncover sensitive stories by protecting anonymous sources) turned on its head by the actions of her sources, gets little public sympathy? Particularly at this point, where Miller's testimony appears to be desired not to gain new names, but to connect a few key dots to complete the investigation of a crime? Not at all.

Broder also notes,
Novak, who has a well-earned reputation for carrying water for his favorite conservatives, has not been prosecuted for publishing Plame's name and has refused to discuss his role in the case or his dealings, if any, with the grand jury investigating the leak.
At this point, is there actually any lingering doubt about Novak's cooperation with the Grand Jury?

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