Saturday, July 09, 2005

NYT: "Newspapers Witholding Two Articles After Jailing" (Robert D. McFadden)

The editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer said last night that the newspaper, acting on the advice of its lawyers, was withholding publication of two major investigative articles because they were based on illegally leaked documents and could lead to penalties against the paper and the jailing of reporters.
The editor, Doug Clifton, said lawyers for The Plain Dealer had concluded that the newspaper, Ohio's largest daily, would probably be found culpable if the authorities were to investigate the leaks and that reporters might be forced to identify confidential sources to a grand jury or go to jail.
"Basically, we have come by material leaked to us that would be problematical for the person who leaked it," Mr. Clifton said in a telephone interview. "The material was under seal or something along those lines."
In an earlier interview with the trade journal Editor & Publisher, which published an article on its Web site late yesterday, Mr. Clifton said that lawyers for The Plain Dealer and its owner, Newhouse Newspapers, had strongly recommended against publication of the articles.

The above is from Robert D. McFadden's "Newspaper Withholding Two Articles After Jailing" in this morning's New York Times.

"Oh, Judith Miller's court battle doesn't matter." Some said that. Some said, "Who cares, put her behind bars!" I don't care what you think of Miller (I don't know her, I do have a friend who does) personally. I don't care what you think of her reporting (I don't care for it). But the legal defense she's mounted goes beyond the easy criticism of "She lied!" Which is all some people want to offer.

(For sound arguments that feel Miller should have named her source or sources, see FAIR.
"FAIR Calls for Revealing Sources in Plame, Lee Cases" and FAIR's radio program CounterSpin's "Rosa Brooks on Judith Miller, Patrice O'Neill on The Fire Next Time"are good places to start. Also watch, listen or read Democracy Now!'s "Protecting Whistleblowers or Shielding Government Wrongdoing? Supreme Court on Journalists and Anonymous Sources" which offers a debate between John (Rick) MacArthur of Harper's and Jim Naureckas of FAIR with MacArthur offering a rational argument why Miller shouldn't give up her source and Naureckas offering a rational argument of why she should. And for those visitors who e-mail that she should be forced to turn over her source because "I don't like her!" . . . I hope I never serve on a jury with you or, worse, have you sit on a jury for something I'm charged with. It's really not about the person. FAIR can make a strong argument that doesn't depend on Judith Miller as a person or her past reporting. If you're convinced that she needs to turn over her source, do yourself a favor and find a strong argument for that by learning FAIR's argument.)

What's the chilling effect of cases like Miller's? Read McFadden's article and find out. I'm not saying it will change your position on Miller's case. (And if you familiarize yourself with the FAIR argument, it shouldn't.) But it is worth thinking about if people can leave their comfort zones of "She's a criminal!" (She didn't write about it. Robert Novak did. Even by writing about it, unless he's on a payroll we don't know about, he didn't committ a crime. The leaker would be the one that the act covers, not the journalist.)

What does The Cleveland Plain Dealer have? Who knows?

I could care less about baseball and for all I know it's something from Congress' steroids hearings. Or maybe they're blowing the lid off faulty meters in downtown Cleveland. Neither would make a difference in my life but they might to other people. And that's what freedom of the press is supposed to be about. For all I know, they've blown the lid off some huge scandal that's been unreported (and will remain so due to the opinion of the paper's attornies).

But for me (note "for me"), freedom of the press isn't about whether I like the reporter. It's not about whether the story mattered to me personally. It's about whether or not we have a free press (or the right to have one even if our press chooses not to behave like a free one) or not.
Members get that. Visitors don't. And "that" refers to my position on this. "That" does not refer to agreement with me. (One visitor, demonstrating he was truly a bad fit for this community, e-mailed a piece from the New York Post arguing Miller should turn over her source or sources. We've never linked to the New York Post and barring a change in their "reporting," we never will. But keep going for the high drama if that's what feeds you.)

My reaction to the visitors e-mailing on this topic was not concern or "Am I wrong?" I, as Rebecca noted, laughed about those e-mails. If you don't know the basic facts (some of you are convinced that Miller wrote on this topic), maybe you should get some basic information before you weigh in? And if you're going to resort to conjecture . . .

The fantasies running through those e-mails speak of highly creative minds. Let me join you in conjecture.

Alternate fantasy: Miller alerted Joseph Wilson about the outing of Plame! She's the unnamed first reporter! The one he's never named! Yes, Miller had contact with Chalabi because he was CIA! And Valerie Plame was CIA! Don't you get it! Miller must go way back with Plame! As someone with strong contacts in the CIA she was personally offended by the outing of Plame! So were her CIA sources! She was working on that story! But the heat on it was too much! The Times refused to publish it! Just like when she offered, on Hardball, during the Iraqi elections that Chalabi was being courted by our government again! Oh my God! Miller's actually a good guy in this story! And she's not turning over her notes because she's protecting the sources who were helping her figure out who the leaker was! Maybe George Tenet himself!

Do you buy it? I don't. But I didn't buy all the conjecture offered on her in e-mails. (Some of which was vile and targeted her with sexism. Saying she's a bad reporter doesn't require suggesting that she and all other female reporters "get back to the kitchen where they belong!"
But someone felt that it did require that -- and at least managed to make the point without resorting to profanity. One of the few.) The e-mails didn't bother me. As I told Rebecca, I laughed at them. There is a strong argument to be made for Miller turning over her source. I don't agree with it, but I respect it. Those of you who feel that should would be better served learning that argument (and, again, members know that argument and those who feel she should turn over her source or sources can make that argument).

But this game of "bash the bitch" is completely lacking in sound arguments. "She lied us into war!" That's your reason why she should turn over her source? That's it? Well, if she's pulled over for speeding, should we execute her for that as well?

If you're one of those visitors who e-mailed, you obviously disagree with me which is more than fine. What's not fine is not knowing the basic facts or being unable to support your argument with something beyond her reporting. (I've been very clear that I'm not a fan of her reporting.)
Get over to FAIR and learn the backing for your position.

Some of you dismissed John (Rick) MacArthur's "slippery slope" argument as though it had emerged from the lunacy of Rehnquist's mind. There is a chilling effect on the press. The administration that's declared war on Social Security, women . . . you name it, declared war on the press long ago. That's why (even with the softball press they've gotten) they felt the need to pay commentators and produce their "news" videos. That's why they went to local TV reporters with the Bully Boy, because they knew never a tough question would be heard from some reporter in a minor market eager to have the bragging rights to "I interviewed Bully Boy!"

That was behind the attacks on Susan Sontag and Bill Maher. The attacks on CBS, the attacks on Newsweek. Go down the list.

Miller might not be the person any of us would have chosen to make the case she's making but when you've got Dan Rather groveling on air or Newsweek floating (apparently false) rumors that a reporter's job might be in question, when you've got ABC cutting Maher loose (and I don't care for Maher, I've never cared for him, but I defended his rights in 2001), when you have so many scraping and bowing, maybe you need to be grateful that Miller's chosen to stand up for the press. FAIR would not see it that way. And if any of the visitors had made FAIR's argument, we wouldn't be going over all of this again.

I love FAIR. When I get the latest Extra!, we usually note several pieces from it here. They're a great organization that does incredible work. "Don't you feel stupid for disagreeing with FAIR?" asked one visitor. (That "shout out" was the closest anyone came to making FAIR's argument.) No. I feel stupid for many things, but that's not one of them. It's been about seven or eight years that I've followed their work and I've never disagreed with them before. That doesn't mean I think they're "stupid." I think they have a sound argument (which is why I've repeatedly said throughout the week, go to FAIR and learn their argument). They could be right but it's not the opinion I hold and I don't have a problem saying so. Nor does their opinion make me "hate" them. One visitor wrote "I hate you now and I'll never visit again!" Good. If you hate me, I'm obviously not going to be able to say anything that reaches you so you're wasting your time coming to this site. Find a voice that speaks to you and visit that.

I'll continue to enjoy FAIR's solid work and their reasoned arguments (which I'm expecting to agree with). They're great. (And Extra! needs to be a monthly.) When I was listening to CounterSpin today I thought, "We need to provide that link." We didn't do a lot of audio early on. And that's because we have some members that go way back who are hearing impaired. If you didn't offer text, we didn't offer you as a link. But the permalinks are so long on the left (always on the left) that when Free Speech Radio News (which does offer a text summary) was suggested as a link, I felt like we could offer that and not be disrespectful to hearing impaired members. Our membership includes an elderly couple where one partner is blind. Free Speech Radio News was a hit with them. (I hadn't known we had a blind member in the community or we would have offered more audio links to begin with. That was my steroetype of assuming that since we're a web site all of our members were sighted. Wrong on my part and I often am wrong.) They have a program that allows e-mails to be read aloud so they're sent entries now and I'm sure there's much laughter over the program's attempts to decipher my many typos.
(There has to be a program that will read web pages. And does so without someone having to copy and paste. If you know of any, please contact the site so we can pass that on.)

Back to Miller, she's been in worse places but it's doubtful she says each morning "Goody, I'm in jail!" (Though apparently a number of you say that.) She could have rolled over like Matthew Cooper did -- his employers didn't leave him a lot of choice; however, he still could have taken a stand on his own. And let's clear something else up. There's this talk about poor Time and the penalities they faced. Time is a part of huge conglomerate. They have the money. More importantly, they have the power to make sure that their insurance policies cover the penalties.
The same way a once powerful "star" was able to get the insurance company to cover the personal costs for a pay off.

It's doubtful that Time would face any huge monetary cost. One call threatening to pull all AOL Time Warner ABC Disney CNN et al business and the insurance company would have caved and agreed to the pay out. (My opinion based on past squeezes powerful individuals and powerful companies have successfully pulled off.) Apparently because Diane Sawyer once lightly grilled Michael Eisner over the cancellation of Ellen, there's this impression that ABC Time Warner AOL CNN et al is a bastion of free speech. That is simply not the case and the public record reflects that time and again.

"Miller planned this in 2003 as her attempt at redemption!" one visitor wrote.

Well then she really is all powerful. I needed to call her about the weather because I've not been really happy with it of late and she's need to get to work on that too. After that, I want to her fix either my microwave or those mini-bags of popcorn because half of the contents continue to burn no matter what setting I use.

I don't know why she's doing it and I don't care. I'm just glad that someone's standing up. And "someone" includes the New York Times who has more than earned the nickname New York Timid in the recent past. That they're standing up, for whatever reasons, is something I give them credit for. Regardless of their reasoning, they're behaving the way the press should. They're fighting and not caving. Lord know the Timid knows how to cave. I'd call it second nature to them but it's been their first nature more often than not.

When I read Keller's remarks on Thursday, I could have done without the Rummy reference, but they're standing up. And "Judy led us into war!" isn't an argument I place a great deal of value in as "reason" for her to turn over her source or sources.

I didn't think they'd do this. (And I still fear Miller's going to cave.) I figured I'd be lobbying my usual spitballs at the Timid. But if they're going to stand up, I'm going to give them credit for it.

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