Posted by: sean | June 28, 2005

Journalism and jail time

The US Supreme Court declined to review the case of two journalists who have refused to testify before a grand jury about who leaked the name of Valerie Plane, an undercover CIA agent and the wife of Joseph Wilson, to Bob Novak. This refusal has resulted in their being held in contempt of court and consequently threatened with up to 18 months in jail. Since civil contempt cases suggest imprisonment in the local jail facilities, the two journalists would be held in the District of Columbia’s local jail unless the US Marshall Services or Judge Hogan decide otherwise

Wilson was sent by the Bush administration to investigate a false report that Iraq had been trying to obtain uranium yellowcake from Niger. Well after Wilson reported to the Office of the Vice President that the report was obviously spurious, the White House continued to use the report to justify invading Iraq. As a result, Wilson published an op-ed piece in the Times, taking the White House to task for using demonstrably false accusations to drum up support for war.

Afterwards, in what seems to be politically motivated revenge, someone from the White House leaked the fact that Wilson’s wife was a covert CIA agent and had recommended him for the Niger investigation. The only reporter willing to out her was the righteous conservative columnist, Bob Novak. Consequently, there was an investigation into who leaked the information. But strangely enough, instead of ordering Novak to testify, the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has aggressively pursued the testimony of Judith Miller from the New York Times and Mathew Cooper of Time Magazine. The former did research and interviews on the matter but never even wrote an article about it, and the latter penned an article about the leak, after Novak’s, in which he questioned the motives behind her outing.

All of the press items about this have focused on journalists’ right to protect their sources, and it seems clear that this is an important issue, especially when it comes to a potentially criminal divulgence, which could have put people’s lives in danger. However, what I have seen much less of is the question of why these two journalists, who did not divulge Mrs. Plane’s identity, are the ones being hounded. Novak has never even been asked to testify in the case, nor has he been threatened with jail time. It seems like a flagrant abuse of power that the only two people who look like they might go to jail in this incident are those who have done nothing wrong.

This is an obvious case of gross injustice, and I’m surprised to see that even the editorial on the issue in today’s Times isn’t more outraged. At the risk of sounding hackneyed or trite, someone down at Miller’s newspaper and Cooper’s magazine should be calling out for all of their readers to go to the window, open it, stick their heads out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Because I’m afraid if Miller and Cooper can’t count on their own publications to do it, they can’t count on anyone.



  1. this is clearly fucked, but it does have the pleasant side effect of potentially seeing judith miller in jail! SHIT YES!

  2. Of course, everyone (myself included) has a problem with the Times; however, we both know that she should not be in jail. But I’m much less sure about Bob Novak.

    In any case, did you know that Miller used to write for NPR and the Progressive?

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