FreePress.net has begun a new campaign to promote the passage of a Federal Shield Law for reporters and are making Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper their poster children. The folks at FreePress are amongst the biggest heroes of the media reform movement. The criticism that follows should not be construed as a call to withhold support from them. But, in my opinion, they are off-track on this matter.
There is a distinction between bona fide whistleblowing and conspiring with individuals or agencies in government to pursue a political vendetta against their enemies.
All the facts are not in yet, but I don’t believe that the reporter’s privilege applies if, for instance, Karl Rove called Judith Miller and recruited her to plant a story for the purpose of punishing Amb. Joe Wilson for criticising the administration.
There is nothing even remotely resembling a whistleblower case here. A whistleblower seeks to disclose information of wrongdoing that the government or others want to keep secret at the public’s expense. Valerie Plame was not engaged in wrongdoing and the disclosure of her identity was not in the public’s interest. It was political payback and the reporters involved are acting as co-conspirators, not journalists.
I support a Federal Shield Law for reporters, but by citing the Miller/Cooper case they are infecting the argument with the illegitimacy of their claims. Reporters do need to be able to protect their sources without fear of legal consequences when engaged in the conduct of their profession as journalists, but not when they are acting on behalf of government hitmen and promoting propaganda. That’s not protecting your sources, that’s protecting your accomplices.
Update: There are reports swirling that Karl Rove was, indeed, Matt Cooper’s source. Despite the White House’s protestations to the contrary, It appears that Rove was planting the Plame story. He has denied having done so, but now his denials are getting murkier. He may still weasel out of this because it is not illegal to disclose the identity of a covert agent if you didn’t know she was covert. It might be difficult to prove what Rove knew when he outted Plame. But he may still have some legal headaches. If he told Special Counsel Fitzgerald, or the grand jury, that he was not the source, he may be facing a perjury charge.
We can dream can’t we?