Saturday, July 09, 2005

Remember when Karl Rove got accused of treason? and questions therein

Whatever happened to that news story? Unsurprisingly, the lethargic Washington press corps frankly doesn't give a damn. According to Think Progress, Arriana Huffington and Salon, among others, yesterday's White House press briefing was the fourth opportunity for the press corps to ask the administration questions about Rove being named as a source who leaked the identity of CIA Agent Valerie Plame to Time reporter Matt Cooper. Yet not one question was asked.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is constantly lauded as independent a prosecutor as they come, at least appears to be doing his best to ignore the heart of the problem in this case: that at least one government official leaked the name of a CIA agent and thereby committed treason, by making his targets members of the press who refuse to reveal confidential sources. The Judith Miller investigation reveals the flaws of Fitzgerald's most public modus operandi: going after journalists--who are private citizens--to turn over their confidential sources to the government regarding the Plame case. This move could surely deter future investigations into corruption that are aided by a source who needs the protection of confidentiality to continue provividng information (e.g. "Deep Throat"'s role in the Watergate investigation). [That Washington Post article mentions that Fitzgerald "quizzed" George W. Bush on the Plame leak as well, for an hour in the White House, but we have yet to hear what came of that].

Why doesn't Fitzgerald make more of a point in inspecting the government's role in the leak? At the same time, I would not be surprised if the administration was effectively stonewalling any investigation. Still, journalists have been able to provide what Fitzgerald has not: indications that Rove may have leaked Plame's name. Finally, it's worth mentioning that neither Miller nor Matt Cooper, the two journalists who are under investigation, chose to publish articles revealing Plame's identity. If only Bob Novak had been as thoughtful.

Also, it is worth ironing out the position that while the source of the Plame leaks should be unearthed, it should not be done through compromising journalistic principles. I have admittedly made the case seem easy where it is not: how to go about finding perpetrators of a crime while protecting those who may have had dealings with them.

A few questions one may ask of my position and corresponding answers:

(1) Why worry about journalistic protections for someone who leaked the name of a CIA Agent? Isn't the goal to out the leaker?
(a) Well, if Miller found out who made the leak through another administration official, someone functioning as a whistle-blower, it is clearly important for her to protect that person. Further, violating basic principles like this one is a precedent that is best not to set for fear that it will be abused in the future.
(2) Shouldn't the most important thing be to find the criminal, never mind if journalists have to violate their principles for the time being?
(a) A criminal can and should be found through means that don't put people in harms way. Revealing a confidential source does this.
(3) And shouldn't the use of anonymous sources be discouraged?
(a) The use of anonymous sources should perhaps be curtailed when possible, but often the most egregious instances of corruption are revealed only through a source who must remain anonymous for the sake of that person's personal safety.

Anyway, I'll give Fitzgerald the benefit of the doubt in terms of his slowness on the government end of the leak; however, I cannot imagine that this White House would allow someone antagonistic to their interests to investigate a case that could reveal some of their top officials as criminals. So Fitzgerald and Rove shall remain under scrutiny, at least by a few of us.

1 comment:

william t nelson said...

the white house press secretary got a lot of heat about Rove today in the press conference. he didn't answer anything. maybe the story's finally going to break in a big way, though it's been simmering for ten-plus days now