Wednesday, July 6, 2005

What’s Important

It’s crunch time.

A special prosecutor demanded yesterday that Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper answer questions about his confidential sources and again urged a federal judge to jail him and New York Times reporter Judith Miller if they continue to refuse to comply.

In a court filing yesterday, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald said that Cooper still must agree to cooperate with prosecutors to avoid jail, even though Time last week turned over notes and e-mails that identify his sources for an article on the disclosure of an undercover CIA operative’s identity.

In unusually blunt language, Fitzgerald told Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan that Cooper and Miller pretend that journalists have a broader right to protect confidential sources than lawyers, presidents and law enforcement officers.

“Journalists are not entitled to promise complete confidentiality — no one in America is,” he wrote.

Fitzgerald’s arguments set the stage for a historic showdown in federal court between the government and the news media this afternoon, when Hogan could order the two reporters confined for defying his October order to cooperate in the grand jury investigation.

As much as I appreciate the bind that Cooper and Miller are in regarding their possible incarceration for their reluctance to reveal their sources, and as spooky as Fitzgerald’s take on confidentiality is — where does that leave attorney/client, doctor/patient, clergy/confessor privilege — the overriding issue is that someone in a position of power in the United States government committed a felony in order to gain political advantage in a debate over whether or not this country went to war for the reasons stated by the President of the United States in his State of the Union speech. The leak was solely for the purpose of discrediting Joseph Wilson, the author of an article that was critical of President Bush. There was no other motive, and it jeopardized not just the life of Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, the victim of the leak, but it also put at risk the necessary covert operations of our intelligence community, which has enough troubles as it is. The fact that an administration can cavalierly declare that a covert agent is “fair game” in order to score points against their opponents indicates that they will do whatever it takes to win. Nothing — not even national security — is sacred to them, and that’s a lot more of a threat to our country than whatever Mr. Fitzgerald can do to punish Mr. Cooper and Ms. Miller.