Thursday, June 30, 2005

Am I missing something here?

Being a journalist myself, I've been following this story with all the fascination of watching an ongoing train wreck in slow motion: Time Inc. will hand over subpoenaed notes--Reporter threatened with jail over story on leak of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. For those of you who don't remember, this case revolves around a CIA agent's cover being blow in the media--supposedly by the Bush administration as retaliation against the agent's husband, who was and is a harsh critic of the Iraq war.
Time Inc. said Thursday it would comply with a court order to deliver the notes of a reporter threatened with jail in the investigation of the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s name.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan is threatening to jail Matthew Cooper, Time’s White House correspondent, and Judith Miller of The New York Times for contempt for refusing to disclose their sources.

It is, of course, illegal to compromise an agent, the identity of who was a classified secret. It harm's America's interests, and puts that agent and agent's family in jeopardy. But I am utterly and totally flabberghasted and the vehemence investigators are going after these Time reporters--since they aren't the ones that broke the story or revealed the agent's identity!
Meanwhile, columnist Robert Novak, who was the first to identify CIA officer Valerie Plame in print, told CNN he “will reveal all” after the matter is resolved, adding that it is wrong for the government to jail journalists.

Novak, who has not been held in contempt, has not commented on his involvement in the grand jury leak investigation.

So essentially, what we have here is conservative columnist Robert Novak, a staunch supporter of the Bush administration, who by all accounts aided and abetted this felony by publishing this classified information, illegally given to him by a "leak" is not being prosecuted or threatened with jail time, even though he is the first-hand source, the epicenter, if you will, of the whole scandal and illegality. Instead, the investigators are targetting reporters who merely followed up on the story, one of whom never even wrote or published an article:
Cooper wrote a story subsequently about Plame. Miller did some reporting but did not write a story....

Robert Bennett, representing Miller, told the judge in asking for more time that “it’s a big step to put two people in jail who have committed no crimes.”

So explain to me what I'm missing here, because right now it looks as if the administration is bending over backward to protect Novak, who has proven himself to be a loyal footsoldier...

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  1. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Ummm... Cooper did commit a crime. He displayed contempt of court as a material witness. It couldn't get much plainer. When comparing Novak and Cooper, Cooper's situation is hardly surprising (and hardly inappropriate): what's surprising is Novak's situation.

    Why is Novak not being pursued? I can only fathom two guesses. First, perhaps Novak is a suspect and has pleaded the fifth. Second (and less likely), Novak has made a deal with prosecutors to spill the beans in return for (perhaps temporary) anonymity.

  2. That's beside the point entirely. Cooper "committed a crime" only because the court dragged him into it as a material witness. As a journalist, any weakening of the First Amendment is to be viewed with great concern. That's why shield laws are important. Now, I am not of the mind that journalist protection is absolute--if their involvement in a story perpetrates or abetts a crime, then they have involved themselves and are fair game.

    The issue here is that the court is going out of its way to avoid the primary material witness, Novak, who is the one who illegally published the information in the first place. If he has pleaded the Fifth, then that should be a matter of public record. It isn't. And Novak is telling anyone who'll listen that he's going to talk about who told him just as soon as the investigation is over. Which sounds to me like he's writing a book. So what we have here are secondary, lesser witnesses taking all the heat while the primary source is more likely than not going to profit from it.

    Were I in Cooper's shoes, I'd hold this court in contempt as well.