"Many — including
many Salon readers — refuse to rally behind jailed, controversial New
York Times reporter Judy Miller. But anyone who truly supports freedom
of speech needs to."
So goes the intro to an article by Andrew O’Hehir in Salon today called Imperfect martyr, in which Salon tries to explain their readers’ discomfort with earlier stories supporting Judith Miller’s refusal to name her source.
They’re right that some people are over-the-top about Judy Miller. And maybe some readers are indeed swept up in that whole media distrust meme ("Journalism as a profession is facing a crisis of public confidence" yada yada…), though I think Salon readers are more independent-minded than that.
It’s all about freedom of the press, apparently, and readers just aren’t grasping it:
On one hand, many
members of the public — especially liberals who ought to be staunch
defenders of the Bill of Rights — seem unable or unwilling to grasp
the idea that a matter of fundamental principle might be at stake, even
in the murky and seemingly bottomless waters of the Miller-Plame-Rove
On the contrary, I think people have heard this argument loud and clear and they don’t buy it.
This letter that they published states it well:
Oh, how I wish our press could distinguish apples from oranges…
Can members of the
press truly not distinguish between protecting a source of genuine,
good-faith news, and protecting someone seeking an accomplice willing
to facilitate a criminal act?
The outing of Plame
had nothing to do with news. The intent here was criminal revenge and
the willful endangerment of national security. These are not protected
by the First amendment.
But please, members
of the press, continue your feckless hand-wringing. As you go to jail
with chin up, whining about the "chilling effect" of it all, you have
my thanks for, once again, utterly missing the point.
— Patrick Cunningham
There’s lots of huffing in the press about "oh, it’s such a very complicated issue; we’ll tell you what the story really is," and they offer up these simplistic narratives like in this Salon article. People are smarter than that.
In contrast, yesterday Slate published an excellent article by Jacob Weisberg that I think does a much better job at digging deeper. Here’s an excerpt:
Journalists make a fetish of anonymous sources. They do so for
reasons ethical, psychological, and anthropological, including genuine
principle, the lure of heroism, and—especially in Washington—a culture
of status based on access to inside information.
ignore the ulterior motives and focus on the principle Judith Miller
has so forcefully asserted by going to prison. To Miller and the Times,
confidentiality is the trump value of journalism, one that outweighs
all other considerations, including obedience to the law, the public
interest, and perhaps even loyalty to country.
This is indeed a
strong principle, but it is a misguided one. In the Mafia, keeping
confidences is the supreme value. In journalism, the highest value is
the discovery and publication of the truth. When this paramount value
comes into conflict with others—such as following the law, keeping your
word, and so on—hard choices have to be made.