The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Journalist’s prison sentence not a very good sign

On July 6, a New York Times reporter named Judith Miller was jailed

for doing her job. Ironically, she is being held in the same Virginia

prison as terrorist plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, who was incarcerated

for doing his own job: being a terrorist.

It is more than frightening that in the United States, a reporter

from arguably our most respected national newspaper will spend the next

few months hobnobbing with convicted terrorists simply because she did

her job.

Miller, along with Matthew Cooper from Time magazine, refused to

divulge the identity of a confidential source to a grand jury

investigating whether a government official revealed the name of an

undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame, to the media.

Plame’s name was leaked to the press by a government official

?’#8209;presumably someone within the Bush administration ?’#8209;in what was

considered by many to be an act of retaliation against Plame’s husband,

who wrote an editorial for the New York Times that criticized Bush

administration policy in Iraq.

Nobody really knows how the information was revealed or who the

government source was, but at the end of the day, syndicated columnist

Robert Novak published Plame’s name, and everyone kind of figured the

Bush administration was behind it.

The genuinely ridiculous part of this whole debacle is two-fold.

First, Miller is indeed going to prison. That’s no joke. The old

journalist’s toolbox, ripe with ‘?tips and tricks’ such as protecting

confidential sources and using quotation marks for direct speech, is

apparently not what it used to be.

Like it or not, Miller has a journalistic obligation to protect the

confidential source, even if it’s somebody with cheap motivations

within a disgruntled presidential administration. Now, for fulfilling

that obligation, she is going to prison. Thank you, special counsel in

charge of the investigation Peter Fitzgerald for showing us the

oh-so-special role that journalism plays in American society.

Cooper, the other journalist who apparently had access to Plame’s

leaked name, is not going to prison. Time magazine folded and turned

Cooper’s notes over to investigators, which prevented Cooper from being

jailed. Cooper now needs to testify in front of the grand jury and say

who the source was.

Sadly, the truth won’t necessarily come out there, either. The

testimony is sealed.

Secondly, anybody who thinks the world of American journalism is

paying itself lip-service by paying so much attention to the

Plame-Cooper-Miller case does not realize the full implications of what

this prison sentence means, or the much greater impact this assault on

journalism has on day-to-day life in the United States.

It’s hard to believe this prison sentence was doled out just one

month after former FBI official W. Mark Felt revealed himself as Deep

Throat, the all-too-important confidential source that helped two

Washington Post reporters crack open critical parts of the Watergate

cover-up. Felt, who was the epitome of the confidential source for

30-plus years, set a precedent and an example that needs to be followed.

Journalists need to be able to do their jobs. Sometimes, to do their

jobs, as was the case with Watergate and as what might have been the

case with Plame had Miller and Cooper been given time to work the

story, journalists need to utilize confidential sources. It’s a real,

living, breathing part of the game.

How are whistle blowers (Enron, WorldCom, et al. could have used an

under-the-radar whistle blower)’#8209;supposed to come forward if reporters

have been publicly shown to not be able to protect confidential

sources? As the Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. justice

system, federal investigators, and Bush administration have all

historically proved time and time again, sometimes the government just

ain’t interested in stopping crooked corporations from doing their

dirty work.

It’s the nature of big business, and oftentimes the only people who

can keep an eye on things work for newspapers. It’d be better if that

weren’t the case, but it’s been that way for 200 years.

Worse yet, things have begun to change.

With Miller in jail and Cooper set to testify before the grand jury

and spill his beans, American journalists have lost a major battle in a

never-ending war.

In this case, I don’t even have the Bush administration to blame.

I don’t think they want the source revealed any more than Miller

does ?’#8209;in fact, rumor has it that Karl Rove, special adviser to

President Bush and deputy chief of staff ?’#8209;might be behind the initial

information leak to Cooper. That’s not even the issue.

The problem here goes deeper. When Felt revealed himself, some had

the audacity to question his integrity. Should he have done it? Should

he have blown the whistle? Were Woodward and Bernstein justified in

using him as a confidential source?

With everything that led up to President Nixon’s resignation, the

fact that those questions were even asked, and the fact that Judith

Miller has now spent several nights in a Virginia prison, is laughable,

and tells me that something is just plain wrong here.

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