Saturday, October 16, 2004
A prosecutor's investigation into an apparent attempt by the Bush administration to punish a political opponent by revealing classified information has veered terribly off course. It threatens grievous harm to freedom of the press and the vital protection it provides against government misconduct.
The reality of the threat was driven home, quite personally for us, last week, when a federal judge in Washington sentenced a Times reporter, Judith Miller, to up to 18 months in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury.
Of course, the Times was all for this investigation until prosecutors started requiring reporters to testify. Its change of heart now is understandable -- there is a big difference between nailing Scooter Libby and throwing Judith Miller in jail for contempt -- but the Times tries to argue that the prosecutor is unreasonable in pursuing his leads and maintaining the secrecy of his evidence, and it snarkily wonders why "Mr. Novak, who originally published Ms. Plame's name, appears to be in no jeopardy." Heh.
The national press corps sleeps with the official Washington. When the New York Times campaigned for a criminal investigation into a leak -- which is what the Plame case is all about -- it was asking for prosecutorial intrusion into relationships between journalists and all possible leakers. That the evidence thus far does not point to the Times' preferred targets -- Libby and Novak -- only reveals the hypocrisy in its position. As far as the Times is concerned, the Plame investigation was just friggin' fine right up to the point that it failed to expose Dick Cheney's right hand man and journalism's Prince of Darkness. Now that it looks like Joe Wilson lied about his wife's involvement and the prosecutors are asking for Judith Miller's phone records, the Times can only conclude that the investigation has "veered terribly off course." Not, apparently, that it was a bad idea to begin with.