Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Journalist Goes to Jail

I have very mixed feelings about the jailing of Judith Miller for refusing a grand jury demand for information on a confidential source. On the one hand, this is another case of a special prosecutor gone wild. It was obvious from pretty early on that no crime had been committed, and it was only because such powerful forces as the New York Times demanded the creation of a special prosecutor that the case has proceeded. Special prosecutors keep going as long as they can get a big budget funded. Regular prosecutors would have ended this investigation long ago.

As to the question of protecting confidential sources, I believe Miller is wrong. A very large distinction needs to be made here, but most commentators lump it all together. If an employee of a government agency knows of some abuses of power or even downright illegalities going on at the agency and gives this information to a reporter, that fits the definition of what should be protected. But imagine a man coming up to a reporter and telling him or her that he had committed a murder. The reporter wrote all of the gory details of the murder, but refuses to name the first-person source. That should not be protected.

In this case, if a crime had been committed, it would have been the very act of telling the reporter about Valerie Plame. This is not a case of a person telling a reporter of an offense he or she had witnessed. This is a case of a reporter witnessing a person committing an act that the special prosecutor was created to determine if it was a crime. I do not believe that the leak constituted a crime, but if the special prosecutor can prove otherwise, Miller is protecting a felon.


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