Tuesday, November 08, 2005

About freedom of the press

Judith Miller claimed high principle in her willingness to go to jail to protect a source. But it's not heroic to protect the powerful; it's the average small-time whistle-blower or witness who needs protection from the powers of the day. The distinction comes home to a small-town reporter faced with an unexpected subpoena. As he puts it:
newspaper[T]he legal system also recognizes an important First Amendment protection that members of the press should not be used as arms of the state. To that end, for a reporter to testify, the state must prove that it cannot obtain the information elsewhere and that the reporter’s testimony is necessary because he or she is an eyewitness to a crime.
The average reporter knows only things that another dutiful investigator should be able to find (without the reporter's help); in Judy Miller's case, what was said to her *was* the crime. Not the same thing, and her overdue ousting from the Times carries martyrish overtones only in her own mind.

(link via Atrios)

Update: kos offers another handy guideline to when the implicit compact between reporter and source no longer holds...

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