Thursday, June 30, 2005

Plame Game: Time Magazine capitulates

The most serious threat to freedom of the press today apparently is the press itself.

What more is there for the time being to say about the decision by Time magazine to turn over to a special prosecutor the notes of their reporter, Matthew Cooper, identifying one or more of his confidential sources? And why is there not more outrage by journalists to what Time has done?

In explaining his decision, Time magazine editor-in-chief actually cited the "rule of law" as central to his decisionmaking. (The First Amendment is apparently not amongst those other rules of law.)

On the very same day that Pearlstine agreed to provide special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald with the identity of his magazine's sources, he told Editor & Publisher that "the magazine would continue to protect confidential sources in the future."

In short, any modern day W. Mark Felt should not be afraid to speak to a reporter at Time! Just because Time magazine provided federal prosecutors with the names of its confidential sources this week doesn't mean the magazine would automatically disclose its sources in the future.

Here is what E & P reported today:

In response to critics who have said giving up a confidential source sets a worse precedent, Pearlstine said, "everyone has to make their own decision. My decision was based on what I thought was the right thing to do for Time Inc."
When asked if this action might reduce the willingness of sources to come to Time reporters in the future, Pearlstine said "there is some risk of that, but if what we have to do is break the law to keep confidential sources, that is a risk I am going to take."

He also said the magazine would continue to protect confidential sources in the future: "We may have a case come along where we have a confidential source and we will again take to the Supreme Court." However, he did not say what would happen if the Supreme Court again declined to hear the case.
So here it is for any current day W. Mark Felts: Even though Time agreed to turn over information identifying its confidential sources today, that does not mean that they will not perhaps sometime in the future protect their sources! If you wish to be a confidential source for the magazine, but are deterred because of today's actions, then that is a "risk" that Pearlstine is bravely only too "willing too take." And if a Time reporter promises you confidentiality, he or she might or might not be telling you the truth. And if you turn out that you have later have been lied to, it was all done in the name of the "rule of law."

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