Wednesday, July 06, 2005

NYT: "Prosecutor in Leak Case Calls for Reporters' Jailing" (Adam Liptak)

"The court should advise Miller that if she persists in defying the court's order that she will be committing a crime," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote. "Miller and The New York Times appear to have confused Miller's ability to commit contempt with a legal right to do so."
He added: "Much of what appears to motivate Miller to commit contempt is the misguided reinforcement from others (specifically including her publisher) that placing herself above the law can be condoned." The publisher of The Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., has repeatedly said the newspaper supports Ms. Miller.
Mr. Fitzgerald quoted at length from news accounts about Time's decision to demonstrate that journalists and others are not of one mind about the obligation of news organizations and reporters to obey final court orders concerning their confidential sources. He also quoted from opinion columns, essays and a Los Angeles Times editorial suggesting that reporters should not take absolutist positions.

Two spotlight entries? Yes. We'll make that the focus of this morning's Times. The above is from Adam Liptak's "Prosecutor in Leak Case Calls for Reporters' Jailing." We'll note that Liptak's article mentions the fingering of Karl (the first mention of it I'm aware of in the paper).

We'll also note that the paper (including Miller) have a right to disobey a court order if they feel it isn't correct. Civil disobedience is allowed and the left has long supported it. Reading it, I thought, "I hope no one starts making the argument, from the left, that the court order is God."
It's not God. On the left, civil disobedience has long been a bedrock principle. The Times (and Miller) are allowed to excercise it as much as anyone else. If they feel that a court order violates the First Amendment rights or some other principle, they have the right to disobey it.

Time (magazine) caved. That was no surprise. It always caves which is why before it caved, we noted it would. Their interpretation of the First Amendment has either never mattered or else it's an interpretation that operates under some "free speech until we might lose business."

I think the New York Times has bungled this from the start. I think the Times has done a lousy job conveying the issues involved. I find it disturbing that they've cared little for principles until now. I wouldn't be surprised if after the Miller issue is resolved they go back to being the New York Timid completely. But they have a right to fight back. (And I personally support that right -- the community is divided on this matter.) If they feel the court order is in violation of the First Amendment and harmful to the freedom of the press, they should disobey it.

They should continue to fight this. Even if Miller goes to jail, they should continue to fight it. They've done a really bad job getting the issues, as they see them, across to their readers. They need to designate a point person to speak to the press and go on TV. It should be Jill Abramson. She's managing editor and she knows the D.C. beat. She has a level of respect that others may not have and she also would (hopefully) be better at stating the issues. Bill Keller's too close to it and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. nearly torpedoes Miller any time he attempts to defend her (by offering poor examples that don't help). (Keller gets snippy when questioned on Miller.)

Today doesn't look good for Miller and the Times needs to realize that. The coverage has improved in the last few days (Seelye* and Liptak). But if Miller goes to jail, they'll want people on the news. Miller's come out fighting (noted in Saturday's report in the Times) and hopefully she'll continue to make her own case strongly. But Fitzgerald is now calling the paper itself into question.

The Times needs to be prepared to respond. That means going on television. They need a point person and Abramson's the person they need to go with. Yes, Sulzberger on television would give additional weight. But the Times needs to realize that he's not helped, though he's tried. He wants to bring up cases that are not going to find sympathy in the current climate. Keller's prone to piping off with "circle jerk" and "arm chair media critics." The public won't respond to that. Abramson may not want the task (then again she may) but she's the highest ranking at the paper that could have any level of respect on this issue.

Her past work means that some who might dismiss any discussion with "Oh Judy, the one who got it all wrong on WMD! Who cares?" might pay attention. They won't listen to Keller (who will probably lose his temper if the issue of WMD reporting comes up) and Sulzberger will go into some previous case that will win no sympathy from the audience.

If they leave it to Miller and her attornies it will appear that the Times isn't actively involved in this case anymore. They've been actively involved from the start and now that Fitzgerald has publicly questioned their stance (and their understanding of journalism ethics), they need to get out there. There are some criticisms they can shrug off. A very public court case is not one of them.

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[*Note: Apologies to all. "Katherine Q. Seelye." I've mispelled her name numerous times -- "Seeyle" at this site. Time permitting, they'll be corrected tonight. The post from Monday has been corrected. Thanks to ___ for pointing it out.]