Should Reporters be Above the Law??

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Bonnie, Feb 17, 2005.

  1. Bonnie
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    Bonnie Senior Member

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    February 17, 2005 -- GEORGE Bernard Shaw once wrote that the problem with newspapers is that they often seem "unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."
    This week's "collapse of civilization" — or at least of press freedom in these United States — came from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: It ruled that two reporters, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, must reveal their sources in the case of outed CIA official Valerie Plame or face jail time.

    Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, the ex-ambassador who investigated reports of Iraqi uranium dealings in Africa for the Bush administration, then turned into a public critic of Bush's Iraq policy. Her name was revealed in a column by Robert Novak, and reporters Miller and Cooper also received leaks from "senior administration officials" allegedly out to discredit Plame's husband.

    They've both refused to say what they knew or who told them. But disclosing the name of a federal agent is a crime, and the court nixed the reporters' claim that the First Amendment grants them the right to protect their sources in a grand-jury hearing.

    The journalism profession has been having a rough time of it this year. Conservative pundits Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher were flogged for real or imagined conflict-of-interest ties to the Bush administration. Heads rolled at CBS after Dan Rather's snafu with falsified National Guard documents. And CNN bigwig Eason Jordan resigned after making careless allegations about U.S. troops in Iraq targeting journalists.

    So, in a way, watching Miller and Cooper stand by their professional integrity is wonderful. They deserve applause for it.

    But that doesn't mean the courts are wrong.



    Miller and Cooper's defenders argue that reporters should be granted the same privileges extended to other professions in which confidentiality is imperative. But there's a difference: Though it often seems otherwise, a journalist's sources aren't his or her clients.

    Unlike lawyers, psychiatrists or priests, reporters don't really have clients — specific individuals whom they're contractually and ethically bound to serve. Sure, it's in the public interest that journalists be free to go about their work. But that doesn't give them the right to protect the perpetrators of crime, just because it results in "news" that can be put in the paper or on TV.

    Cooper and Miller were engaged in nothing so cynical here, and indeed, whether there was any deliberate crime is still unknown. But the broader principle as it pertains to grand-jury hearings remains.

    This is all very uncomfortable territory for the mainstream media, which seems to want the law's sanction as a breed of supercitizens. Time Editor-in-Chief Norm Pearlstein commented after the verdict that "We continue to believe that the right to protect confidential sources is fundamental to journalism." (He'd have my vote if he'd simply used the word "duty" instead of "right.")

    Sounding a similar theme, Baltimore Sun editor Tim Franklin this week objected to a judge's ruling that Gov. Robert Ehrlich couldn't be sanctioned for barring state employees from talking to two particular reporters. Franklin called the ruling "scary" and "not only unconstitutional but undemocratic."

    Let's all just take a deep breath. The press doesn't have a "right" to know anything it wants, or have access to whomever it wants. The power and freedom of the press is that it has the right to publish whatever it wants.

    Miller never wrote about the Plame controversy, andhas held that up as a reason why compelling her testimony is more absurd. In fact, the opposite is true. If telling her the name of a CIA agent was a crime, then she's even closer to the situation of an ordinary citizen who witnessed a crime. We can all be compelled under many circumstances to testify to our direct knowledge of lawbreaking.

    This is not to say I don't strongly sympathize with Miller and Cooper, who obviously are not criminals, and whose purpose is not to protect criminals. I hope a judge will recognize the principle Miller and Cooper are upholding and exercise some judicial discretion. But the concept of "civil disobedience" originally included the idea that dissenters were willing to accept the prescribed legal punishment for what they considered their moral stands.

    Miller and Cooper's predicament isn't easy. But there is some justice in knowing they're in the same boat as ordinary citizens, who are often placed in difficult and unpleasant situations as the result of witnessing a crime as well.

    http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/21979.htm
     
  2. Yurt
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    Yurt Gold Member

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    Some stuff I found on this topic...

    Anonymous speech:

    This is a good point, afterall, anonymity is a constitutionally protected right. However...

    This constitutional right is not "absolute." For example:

    In my opinion, if the government (which it appears to have done) shows a "compelling" need for these anonymous sources, then under the law, the reporters right (or the persons giving the information, very closely tied) to anonymous speech is outweighed by the compelling public need to know more about this crime.

    I have personally witnessed reporters at events and it amazes the air of Godlike being they carry. They need to remember that their rights are our rights, not more, not less.
     
  3. CivilLiberty
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    CivilLiberty Active Member

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    What I have been wondering is, why don't the reporters remain completely silent?

    Prosecutor: Mr. Reporter, did you meet with the secret informant?

    Reporter: Citing my rights under the 5th amendment, I refuse to answer.



    Prosecutor: Mr. Reporter, do you know the name of the secret informant?

    Reporter: Citing my rights under the 5th amendment, I refuse to answer.



    Prosecutor: Mr. Reporter, do you have transcripts from the secret informant?

    Reporter: Citing my rights under the 5th amendment, I refuse to answer.



    WTF?? Why did they not plead the fifth?



    A
     
  4. Merlin1047
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    Merlin1047 Senior Member

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    Because the fifth amendment protects against self-incrimination. It does not provide a shield which allows someone to refuse to testify - so long as they are not charged with a crime.

    Even if testimony is sought which might disclose criminal activity on the part of a person giving testimony, that person may NOT refuse to testify if the prosecutor gives him or her immunity from any charges stemming from that testimony.

    Failure to testify under those conditions is contempt of court.

    =========================
    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment05/07.html#1
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
     
  5. CivilLiberty
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    CivilLiberty Active Member

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    Yes, I recognize that. that's not my point.

    My point is, that admitting their involvement puts them in jeopardy of "contempt of court", in essence they become compelled to be a "witness against themselves" and this testimony sets them up for criminal (contempt) liability.

    I think they have a 5th amendment excuse here.

    Andy
     
  6. Merlin1047
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    Merlin1047 Senior Member

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    Still, no.

    The reporters are not charged with any crime, therefore they cannot hide behind the fifth. Also, there is no constitutional right that shields reporters who fail to comply with a judge's order to testify in criminal matters of which they may have knowledge. From the article:

    "Her name was revealed in a column by Robert Novak, and reporters Miller and Cooper also received leaks from "senior administration officials" allegedly out to discredit Plame's husband.

    They've both refused to say what they knew or who told them. But disclosing the name of a federal agent is a crime, and the court nixed the reporters' claim that the First Amendment grants them the right to protect their sources in a grand-jury hearing."


    Those being sought are the sources who allegedly gave the CIA agent's name to the reporters. The judge ruled that these reporters have a duty to testify regarding the source of their information. It is that source (if it exists) which is the target of the investigation. There is currently no issue of self-incrimination on the part of the two reporters.

    If there is an issue of possible criminal charges because the reporters published the name of that agent, their refusal to testify is moot since there is a published article with their by-line on it. If they were to be charged, which I doubt, that would be sufficient evidence to convict them. Even if there were a self-incrimination issue as you suggest, the prosecutor needs only to grant them immunity.

    Personally, given the somewhat loose ethical codes recently demonstrated by some in all forms of media, it would not surprise me to learn that these two have no source and that they made the whole thing up in an attempt to influence the election in favor of kerry.
     
  7. CivilLiberty
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    CivilLiberty Active Member

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    Not true. You do not have to be charged with ANYTHING to refuse to answer any question if you have any reason to believe that you might suffer any consequences for answering. In a recent SCOTUS ruling, they ruled that You must "state your name"in connection to an investigation, but that's IT.

    Yes I know - but that's a legally separate issue.


    You're missing something important here. NOVAK published the name. MILLER and COPPER did NOT.


    Andy
     
  8. Merlin1047
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    Merlin1047 Senior Member

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    And you keep ignoring the fact that the prosecutor merely needs to grant them immunity and that blows their self-incrimination claims right out of the water.
     
  9. Yurt
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    Yurt Gold Member

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    There is no 5th Amend privilege here.
     
  10. CivilLiberty
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    CivilLiberty Active Member

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    No, they don't have to accept an offer of immunity.


    A
     

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