Sunday, July 24, 2005

Reporter Malpractice, Texas Hold-em & the Plame Game

“It's not news that the U.S. has an intelligence agency, and it's not news that some of the agencies employees are double-naught spies. Further, the name of Valerie Plame isn't news, either -- there's nothing about her that makes her identity lede-worthy according to any standards of journalism I've ever seen. (If the agent were, say, Michael Jackson, that might be news, especially in today's Big Media world.)

At this point, there isn't a story in what the contact is offering (the New York Times never ran a story suggesting that this was news); the contact's actions themselves do constitute a story (‘Did White House official violate U.S. law in outing CIA operative?’ is showing serious legs); and finally, the contact has implicated the reporter in an expansive web of intrigue that may result in the reporter going to prison.

This last part is key because it goes to the core of the implicit contract between reporter and source. A great deal of attention has been focused on the misguided idea that naming Whitehouse would violate a sacred trust, but this view misunderstands the responsibilities both parties incur when such an agreement is struck.

When Bob Whitehouse dropped Plame's identity on Miller, he immediately breached his contract with her. An agreement of confidentiality binds both parties, not just the reporter. When the source swears the journalist to secrecy, he/she incurs an obligation to behave ethically, as well. A reporter's good faith oath isn't a license of indenture, and it may not be played in bad faith to place a reporter in undue jeopardy. If Whitehouse breaks that trust, the reporter is no longer under any obligation whatsoever to protect his name.

Miller needed to step back and say “thanks Bob, but no thanks -- you're the story now.” Reporters are obligated to the truth, and allowing themselves to be pimped by those who would use them as tools against the truth is a crime against the profession and the society it serves. Protecting that which you are bound to expose is malpractice.

As somebody who has given and honored his word many times, I can respect that somebody is willing to go to jail rather than do something they see as reflecting on their reputations. But in doing so, you may be acting on a personal principle, not an industry code. The distinction is important.

There are few things in our entire culture that are more essential than the freedoms codified in the 1st Amendment. Press freedom isn't just important to democracy, it's a prerequisite. Further, I'm all in favor of doing anything we can to encourage whistle-blowers in this age of high governmental and corporate kleptocracy. Most editorials and comments I'm seeing this last week or two insist that the Plame case is about just these issues.

I don't buy it. From where I sit, Miller went to jail not to protect the name of a source, but to protect the name of a former source who may be a felon.”

Former Intelligence Officers Hit White House on Plame Leak

Former U.S. intelligence officers criticized President Bush on Friday for not disciplining Karl Rove in connection with the leak of the name of a CIA officer, saying Bush's lack of action has jeopardized national security.

In a hearing held by Senate and House Democrats examining the implications of exposing Valerie Plame's identity, the former intelligence officers said Bush's silence has hampered efforts to recruit informants to help the United States fight the war on terror. Federal law forbids government officials from revealing the identity of an undercover intelligence officer.

"I wouldn't be here this morning if President Bush had done the one thing required of him as commander in chief-- protect and defend the Constitution," said Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst, who calls himself a Republican. "The minute that Valerie Plame's identity was outed, he should have delivered a strict and strong message to his employees."

When they thought it would die down they talked tough, but, when it came back to haunt them they suddenly were ‘helpless’ until the investigation was over.

Apparently, none of them imagined a prosecutor as relentless as Fitzgerald. He just kept dotting the i's and crossing the t's until he had a trail that lead him to the offices of the President and Vice President of the United States. So now, it's time to change the subject…, again…
con·cept: Reporter Malpractice, Texas Hold-em & the Plame Game