Friday, July 08, 2005

Echoes of Watergate: Rove, Plame, and the freedom of the press

I seem to be alternating quite a bit in recent days between the Miller-Cooper-Plame saga and the Supreme Court, and I'm back tonight with more on the former. As some of you have have seen, I've been having an ongoing discussion with a couple of my readers (see here and here) on whether or not, or at least to what extent, journalists should be protected from prosecution with respect to their use of anonymous sources. It's more a matter of nuanced difference than fundamental disagreement, however. I tend to take an absolute stance on the freedom of the press while others argue that, for example, journalists should not be permitted to protect anonymous sources in cases where a felony has been committed and there is no obvious public interest in maintaining the cover of anonymity. Actually, though, I'm still wrestling with this issue. Although it seems like a mere technicality, with one journalist in jail and no apparent harm done, this case brings to light the broader issue of the place of journalism in democracy, both the freedom of the press and the degree to which that freedom may be limited for the sake of the public interest. I encourage all of you to think seriously about this issue, and, should you care to do so, to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section of this post.

In the meantime, I also encourage you to check out The Carpetbagger Report's take on Karl Rove's possible role in the story. (I've addressed it briefly here.) This is a separate issue, to be sure. However, despite relatively lukewarm coverage in the press thus far, the ramifications of Rove's involvement in the "outing" of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent would be enormous. We all know what can happen, after all, when some of the president's men are involved in a crime.

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  • I, for one, think that there should be no protection from federal law for journalists. The rule of law is central to our justice system. Anyone that commits a crime should be held accountable, and no journalist should under any circumstances me able to protect them. Yeah, I know the arguements, and I think that if investigative journalism is the best we can as a political system to hold our leaders accountable, than we truly are in a sad state and need to do what I've been calling for a long time: seriously revise our constitution.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 1:38 PM  

  • I disagree Jonathan, anonymous sources need to be protected because if not then they will be reluctant to come forward in the first place. Though it becomes more complex if that source could be implicated in the crime.

    I don't think you can have anything resembling democracy without freedom of the press. It is a vital check and balance on the power of the state. The problem for me is large corporate interests creating a massive conflict of interest by owning a slew of media outlets as well as participating in government policy lobbying.

    Upholding journalistic priciples is certainly vital though in a free market economy journalistic objectivity is most likely impossible. The greater aim, perhaps, is to create policies that will broaden the debate on any given subject by allowing as many voices as possible to enter into the public arena to be heard by as many people as possible. So I think independent ownership of individual media companies is very important but something that is being reduced more and more these days.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:23 PM  

  • I'm not arguing against freedom of the press at all. But I don't necessarily think anonymous sources are a prerequisite for that.

    What is happening here is two important ingredient for a healthy democracy are bumping up against one another here: indepentent press and the rule of law. In my opinion, I think if a choice must be made, the rule of law in the more important principle. No one should be above the rule of law, not the president, not the judiciary, not the police or the military, and not the press.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 6:08 PM  

  • I respectfully disagree with Jonathan. Without anonymous sourcing..the press would be hamstrung. This sourcing sometimes requires a journalist to protect that source. If they don't have that ability they won't get the information as the source often fears retribution.

    Information from those sources can be crucial to the press...and the press is crucial to a free society.

    Along the lines of Rove/Plame..I personally think there's a good shot it's all connected to the coverup of the Administration sexing up intelligence in the lead up to the Iraq invasion:

    By Blogger carla, at 6:33 PM  

  • Carla,
    Of course, I'm not arguing that there should be no anonymous sources, far from it. But i think of the two principles, the rule of law should trump the conviniences a shield law would allow for an independent press.

    But I also think that the slippery-slop argument being pushed here are a bit on the alarmist side.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 7:49 PM  

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