Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cleveland Plain Dealer: just plain wrong

I think I've figured out the point behind the PlameGate/Jailing Judy brouhaha and why the administration isn't shaking in it's shoes as it ought to be. The broad ranging effects of this case are boiling into a journalistic temper tantrum with editors/papers & reporters starting to demand a reporter shield law and refusing to publish "important" stories if an anonymous source was used. This tact will surely be a boon to any corrupt organization/government as much as the WH press corps refusal to ask any of the most obvious questions when given the opportunity to do so (especially in consideration of US MSM disinterest in covering important stories like the DSM and willingness to use non-identified government supplied propaganda as news stories).

To avoid a similar situation Time & the NY Times has with the PlameGate grand jury, The Cleveland Plain Dealer has decided to can two stories of "profound importance" because the paper's attorney's have determined the paper would be considered culpable for any investigation into the illegal information leaked for the story. Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton wrote a column for the 30 June 2005 edition of the paper in which he disclosed the paper will put the kibosh on high profile cases using anonymous sources [emphasis added]
"As I write this, two stories of profound importance languish in our hands," Clifton wrote. "The public would be well served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them. Publishing the stories would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail. Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now. How many more are out there?"
Clifton, the paper and those supporting a shield law for reporters fail to acknowledge the difference between protecting a source who is in danger for having uncovered/disclosed activity of which the public has a right/need to know (even when the information necessary to substantiate the claim is based on illegal leaking of confidential/proprietary information) and a leak of information in which the leak of that information is the illegal activity, especially when that leaked information unnecessarily jeopardizes the target of that leak. There is a huge difference between the need to protect a whistle-blower leaking confidential information that his/her employer is illegally dumping toxic waste into local river and the utter lack of need to protect an anonymous source who leaks personally identifying information about a government operative especially if that information compromises the safety of the operative (and those involved with the operative) and/or the integrity of an operation/investigation. In bandying Valerie Plame's name around to the general public, the sole purpose of the leak by the anonymous source was not to alert the public to much needed information (and potentially correct a wrong), the purpose of the leak was to target Plame and her husband, former Ambassodor Joseph Wilson, for political retribution after Wilson blew the whistle on BushCo for lying about Saddam Hussein's supposed attempt to purchase of yellow cake not of the Betty Crocker variety from Niger. In this case, it is a well known fact that Judith Miller has potentially critical information (she herself has lead Fitzgerald and the public to that knowledge). As such, in this the situation, the moral obligation she has to the public (the obligation to provide pertinent information to the grand jury) far outweighs her personal obligation to her source (if she, herself was the source, she can take advantage of the 5th amendment in front of the grand jury).

Clifton, the Plain Dealer and the reporter (if Clifton himself is not the roporter) do their readers and the general public a great disservice by canning stories of such magnitude. The reporter shield law they suggest is absolutely necessary to maintain freedom of the press is the proverbial double-edged sword that could just as easily be used to hide crimes such as the use non-existent anonymous sources, leaking falsified "confidential" information to be used as evidence against a person/company, and in situations similar to PlameGate - all without a requirement for accountability. If the stories are really of such importance, they should bite the bullet and publish, or actively encourage/assist the reporter to find some outlet that will publish the stories instead of playing the game of "I know something you don't know" in an effort to spearhead a change in law.

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