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Seeing both sides of the Judith Miller case


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July 07, 2005

Seeing both sides of the Judith Miller case

Stephen Baker

I've been steering clear (at least on this site) of this debate over confidential sources. It's getting plenty of attention elsewhere and only touches the theme of this blog--blogging--obliquely. But I think it's important for everyone at least to understand and respect both sides of the issue. That's why I was disturbed to see the judge in the case, Thomas F. Hogan, demean Miller's stand. Here he is in today's Times:

"That's the child saying: 'I'm still going to take that chocolate chip cookie and eat it. I don't care."

10:46 AM

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Seems like this case could bear on bloggers more directly than it might first appear. If journalists have no way to protect their sources, what chance will bloggers--most of whom lack the financial backing of media organizations--have against government pressure?

Posted by: Rob Hof at July 7, 2005 01:04 PM

A self-important, runaway federal prosecutor has sent an conscientious New York Times reporter, Judith MIller, to jail because he apparently hopes to give some bureaucrat the Martha Stewart treatment.

He wants to make examples of the reporter and the bureaucrat because the former has defied him and, apparently, the latter may have lied to federal officials, which is a crime.

Instead, he's the pariah, the betrayer of our Constitution and heritage.

The special prosecutor is being unethical, because the ethical thing to do is to act in behalf of the greater good.

In all cases, freedom of the press produces more benefits to our country than the outcome of any criminal prosecution or the defense of any legal principle or rule, other than the First Amendment.

Without freedom of the press, we are a dictatorship. When there is no freedom of the press, rumors rule and rulers are mistrusted. The rule of law is a joke and prosecutors, judges and government officials are despised.

It's easy to hate government and politicians when you don't know what you're talking about, and without freedom of the press, there will be millions of know nothings who will spew hatred as never before.

That's where we are and where we're going.

Posted by: Donald E. L. Johnson at July 7, 2005 07:01 PM

The problem with the Judith Miller case is that everybody is looking at it as a First Ammendment issue. Judith Miller is not being prosecuted for what she wrote. She is being prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Her source leaked sensitive information that they had been sworn to keep secret, and in doing so, committed a federal crime.

I believe strongly in the first ammendment, but I beleive in the responsible exercise of free speech. Printing a story that endangers the life of an individual already at high personal risk for the good of our country is unethical, but that is not what she is going to jail for.

Miller is going to jail for protecting a source who knowingly endangered an individual in the service of our country. That is a freedom none of us should have.

Posted by: M. A. Smith at July 8, 2005 09:37 AM

While I don't agree with M.A. Smith on this issue, I respect him/her for weighing both sides of the issue. But I don't think we know that Miller is protecting the leaker. She may only be protecting a person who told her (or didn't tell her) about the leaker.

Posted by: steve baker at July 8, 2005 10:17 AM

I've posted this on my blog:

With all due respect, the press has a special place in our Constitution and society. Without a free press that is free to gather information from all sources without recrimination, you have even more government secrecy and corruption.

Because our country is so large and complex and our media?? resources are so limited, we already are faced with unprecedented governmental secrecy and corruption, especially in the major metro areas like NYC, Chicago, LA and Washington, DC.

Reporters need all the help they can get to ferret out the corruption and misdeeds in government, and most whistle blowers won?? talk unless promised that their names won?? be used in any way, including in the courts.

What we as readers have to do is understand that honest reporters treat confidential sources with some suspicion and check out what they say before going to press. This, apparently, is what Judith Miller did. She listened to her source (s) and decided they didn?? have the goods and never did a story, possibly because she didn't want to break a law.

What about dishonest, lazy reporters? Yes, they exist, but they don?? last. Reporters who abuse the use of unnamed sources eventually are found out and are fired, driven out of the business. Their editors figure them out and/or their sources do, and they??e out of the business.

If you trust powerful government bureaucrats and ambitious politicians, not to mention government contractors, etc., to work honestly without public oversight, you??e missing the point. Power corrupts. And as much as I wish there was more intellectual integrity in journalism than there is, I??l trust the journalists a heck of a lot more than any politician or government official.

Posted by: Donald E. L. Johnson at July 9, 2005 01:04 PM

Did you read today in the NYT that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is withholding publication of an investigative series because it features reporting from illegally leaked documents, and they're worried about the reporters going to jail? The chilling effect has begun.

Posted by: steve baker at July 9, 2005 01:27 PM

Yes, Steve, the N.Y. Times story, which I first saw on Drudge this morning, prompted me to post my latest screeds on the topic. Very chilling. Some publishers, of course, will be more aggressive than others.

I expect the use of unnamed sources will continue when no potential crimes or law suits are involved, but anything that might attract the attention of a prosecutor or trial lawyers probably will be avoided, depriving us of important information about our government.

Posted by: Donald E. L. Johnson at July 9, 2005 06:59 PM


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