Monday, July 11, 2005

Reporters going to jail

I have held off on this one because I am conflicted about what I think. If Judith Miller spends some time in the slammer because of her conscious, I might even be able to admire her -- lots of people have goine to jail for matters of conviction - (of beliefs). On the other hand I think she got what she deserved. She stopped being a reporter of news and became a participent in a crime.

Something we will probably never know is what the "outing" of Valerie Plame actually did. It is not entirely inconcievable that one or a bunch of people got very dead. This was not a political gottcha' -- it was very serious, and there are very serious laws to protect people from getting very dead.

So the question boils down to, "Are reporters responsible to the law, or to those who they may give their word not to reveal their identities?" After some agonizing I have come down on the side that in some cases the reporters are derelict in their responsibilities to the laws which govern us.

Some cases ... not all.

The Valerie Plame case is an example and Judith Miller should go to jail for contempt. This statement is not out of anger toward Miller, even though she has been a toad for the Bush administration, there are more important matters at stake.

The question is: first, for the source, when should you expect the information you give to a reporter and your identity to be protected? This seems to be the simpler of the questions. If you have committed a crime or have knowledge of a crime, you have no reason not to do what every citizen should do -- be a witness, under oath, submit to cross examination, and tell an open and fair system what knowledge you have. You are not entitled to decide what information is important and to who you will give it to. To be able to do so would open wide the door to every evil known that one person can inflict on another -- revenge, or grudges, for instance.

In this instance, there should be no protection for either the reporter or the leaker.

The second case is more difficult. When a company, or government commits a wrongdoing, or even a mistake, the tendency is to cover it up, spin it away, or just ignore it. Enter, stage right, the reporter, who not only is working for his organization, but for you and me, and we do have a right to know if there is wrongdoing afoot. Sometimes it is possible that the only way for a reporter to know of the wrongdoing is by protecting the person who speaks to him.


Then too, one has to be honest and say that the professional reputation of reporters has never been lower -- and with good reason. Some, like on your local TV news are just pretty bobbleheads. And far worse, many - not all - but a great many, sell out to the corporate interests they work for, or to partisan views, on any side. And then just to put a nail in their coffin of reputation, they try to treat issues as he-said, she-said, equal validity views. This is most angering to a scientist who sees stories about things such as creationism treated with equal validity as organic evolution. Such "reporting" is just plain laziness at best.

Reporters are failing to serve the public interest and therefore should get no break from the public when one of these grey areas pops up.

Remember, Deep Throat did not give Woodward information which may have led to the deaths of others, he just gave him hints about where he should look to find the truth -- and then left it to Woodward and Bernstein and Ben Bradley to use thier skill and resources. And then Katherine Graham had the courage to back them up. How many today will back up a critical story of the war in Iraq (a. k. a. Operation Fucking Disaster)?

Dan Rather used to end his broadcasts with the word, "courage". There is no courage left in journalism now. Only a profit motive, or even worse a power motive. And none of it is in the interests of the public.

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