Thursday, July 07, 2005

NYT: "Reporter Jailed After Refusing to Name Source" (Adam Liptak)

"The law presented Judy with the choice between betraying a trust to a confidential source or going to jail," Mr. [Bill] Keller [executive editor of the New York Times] said after the hearing. "The choice she made is a brave and principled choice, and it reflects a valuing of individual conscience that has been part of this country's tradition since its founding."

The above is from Adam Liptak's "Reporter Jailed After Refusing to Name Source" in this morning's New York Times. First we'll say well done to Adam Liptak for the best article he's written on the topic (as noted by Keesha, Rob, Kara, Jordan, Eli and Seth). We'll also note that Keller's found the proper angle to present the case.

"To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld," he said, referring to the secretary of defense, "you go to court with the case you've got. It would be nice if there was absolute clarity about the nature of this case. On the contrary, there's immense mystery about this case."

I agree with Eli who stated he could have done without the Donald Rumsfeld ref but thought it was still a strong statement.

That's not a "better late than never" congratulations. This isn't over. The battle didn't start with Judith Miller and it doesn't end with her being sent to jail. Besides the push for a national shield law, there's also the fact that this is a historical struggle on the part of the press to remain a free press. (We're speaking ideally.)

Another reporter who faced jail in the case, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, was spared after announcing a last-minute deal with a confidential source that he said would allow him to testify before a grand jury.
Before being taken into custody by three court officers, Ms. Miller said she could not in good conscience violate promises to her sources. "If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality," she told Judge Thomas F. Hogan, "then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press."

One reporter made the case for a free press, one didn't. (In fairness to Cooper, his employer wasn't standing behind him. A chilling message to Time magazine -- who knows how much damage will be done to it's next trend story cover? Or possibly, out of fear that Time might tell the other, both Hilary Duff and Lindsay Loham will cancel out on the sure to be hard hitting feature cover.)

One organization stood behind their reporter and their concept of a free press, one didn't.

If you're counting on a Pentagon Papers to emerge in the next few months, cross Time off the list of possible publishers. Not just because they're so scared of their shadow but also because who's going to want to talk to them?

You're an assistant in the White House. You hear some explosive information that the public must know. Who do you go to? Only the insane would go to Time now. You'd remember that Time didn't back the reporter and turned over e-mails. You'd know that when push came to shove, Time would be right there helping the government push you around.

It's a good thing for the mega-mall (let's not call it a news organization) that is Time Warner ABC Disney CNN et al that they have "synergy." That'll allow them to exist on covering the "tough issues" of the movies the conglomerate's releasing, the ABC fall line up. It's really not like they can count on any hard hitting news. Who's going to tell them anything?

In a statement, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, said Ms. Miller had followed her conscience, with the paper's support. "There are times when the greater good of our democracy demands an act of conscience," Mr. Sulzberger said. "I sincerely hope that now Congress will move forward on federal shield legislation so that other journalists will not have to face imprisonment for doing their jobs."

Who knew that the New York Times still had it in them to fight for a free press (as they understand it)? They did and do have it in them. And Miller's made the focus what's at stake.
Liptak's article is his strongest yet and one the Times can be proud of.

Hopefully, there's also a little pride in the halls over the way the organization and Miller behaved. They conducted themselves like news professionals. Others involved can't say the same.

We'll close with Miller's words:

In her statement in court, Ms. Miller said she had received no similar permission from her sources.
"Your Honor," she said, "in this case I cannot break my word just to stay out of jail. The right of civil disobedience based on personal conscience is fundamental to our system and honored throughout our history."
She noted that she had covered the war in Iraq, and had lived and worked all over the world.
"The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries," she said, "but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know."

Whatever your opinion of Miller's reporting, in the court room she stood with the press. And her stance and the Times put others to shame.

We'll cover other news today (and do the Indymedia roundup tonight) but for the Times, this is the most important story today. So we'll make that our focus.

Kara: I hope this is a sign that the Times has woken up. I doubt it. But even if they just woke up for this one issue due to it being one of their reporters, it's more courage than I've seen in a year when Newsweek issued apologies and floated the apparent false rumor that a reporter might lose a job, a year when Time said "Oh we can't disobey a court order!" When back down and recline seem to be the only two positions for the press' easy chair the Times standing up mattered. And even though I'm not forgetting Miller's reporting, I will applaud her courage in the court room.

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[Note: Membership is not all in agreement re: the Times decision to fight. If you're a member and want to have your say in this space, note your permission to be quoted. Members can also send links to stories or web entries that disagree with Miller & the Times' actions and we'll note those.]