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5 “Journalism on Trial”: Confidentiality and the Plame Leak Case How did what seemed a minor inside-the-Beltway matter just a couple of years ago—the public naming of a CIA agent—become a wildly swinging double-edged sword that threatens to wound a lot of people and perhaps put a big dent in the protective shield reporters thought they had? —Rudi Bakhtiar on CNN Dan Rather’s hasty retirement, the failings of Newsweek, and remembrances of Watergate and Deep Throat were all still fresh in the public mind when, on June 27, 2005, the latest scuffle over unnamed sources grabbed the limelight after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of the New York Times’s Judith Miller and Time’s Matt Cooper. Months earlier, on February 15, an appeals court ruling upheld independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s subpoena of the two reporters as part of his investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame’s status as a covert CIA employee. The two journalists had sought an intervention from the high court as a final legal option to avoid jail for their refusal to testify. A week later on July 6, with jail eminent, Cooper’s and Miller’s fates diverged when a last-minute waiver from White House advisor Karl Rove freed Cooper to testify and avoid incarceration. Miller received no such waiver and, after a short hearing, was taken to jail in Alexandria, Virginia, until she chose to relent and testify. On the same day, Bob Woodward released his soon-to-be bestseller on Mark Felt, The Secret Man. Woodward used his media appearances for the book to defend Miller, even offering to serve her jail time for her.1 Months later, when his own involvement in the Plame leak i-x_1-206_Carl.indd 111 1/21/11 2:48:37 PM scandal came to light, he would find himself compared to Miller in a far less positive light than would have been imagined in early July. How did the plight of Judith Miller—and, to a lesser extent, Matt Cooper and Bob Woodward—shift from martyr to outcast? Once the abstracted advocacy for reportorial confidentiality subsided, the Plame leak case brought to public attention the inner workings of newsrooms, the Bush administration, and their interaction in sometimes quite unsettling ways. The interpretive struggles that developed within the journalistic community bespoke a tension between protecting journalism no matter what and recognizing that, in practice, unnamed sources were shot through with a messiness that proved difficult to untangle. All the while, the looming specter of the journalistic role in driving forward a faulty case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a sore subject running throughout these chapters, continued to fester with the costs of war still mounting. In many ways, Plamegate marked the culmination of the struggle over unnamed sources recounted here in how it raised questions about what kind of journalism we have, what kind we want, and the distance between these choices. Stumping for a Reporter’s Privilege With the combination of judicial pressure to compel Miller and Cooper to testify, growing antipathy toward the Bush administration’s media management tactics, and journalists still thinking about Deep Throat, it is no surprise that in the summer of 2005 the threat and realization of an imprisoned journalist sparked broad outrage within the journalistic community. The response was not simply a call to free Miller, but a movement to introduce new legal privileges protecting reporters at the federal level. These efforts to extend the plight of Miller and Cooper required a broad normative argument holding that journalistic autonomy could only be protected by stopping the government from interfering with journalistic practice in the form of forcing journalists to testify in federal cases. Many in the journalistic community vocally heralded the two reporters through an appeal to ideals without considering what actually transpired between the journalists and their sources to bring about the case—an omission recounted below. To advocate for legal privileges, journalists had to associate their autonomy with a social value beyond only solidifying the status of journalism for its own individualized purpose. Any rhetorical argument backing journalists’ claiming of rights above those of other citizens needed to position journalists as surrogates working for their audiences. Being a conduit for informa112 . chapter 5 i-x_1-206_Carl.indd 112 1/21/11 2:48:37 PM tion about the operations of various institutions meant reserving the option of using unnamed sources to bring out otherwise...


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