Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the fourth estate has failed us

There is only one part of our Constitution which incontrovertibly protects an industry.
Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...

As such, the press has a great responsibility to be a bulwark against government when the government's actions harm the people. That's why Thomas Jefferson said "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."

But what do you do when newspapers are either merely mouthpieces of the government, or when they help perpetrate a fraud on the court, or when they aide in criminal behavior? The Brown Alumni Magazine gives us a good litany of our press gone wild.
In 2001, for example, a planned FBI raid on an Islamic charity called the Global Relief Foundation was stymied when New York Times reporters Philip Shenon ’81 and Judith Miller, who’d learned of the raid, called foundation officials for comment beforehand. U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who would later become well-known for his prosecution of vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, ordered the journalists to turn over their telephone records so he could determine who’d leaked them news of the upcoming raid. (The case remains unresolved.)
...Relying on leaked information, [New York Times reporter James] Risen [’77] reported on March 8, 1999, that Lee had been fired that day and was "the prime suspect in a nearly three-year investigation of reports of Beijing’s theft of nuclear technology." Lee was eventually cleared of all spying charges and agreed to a plea bargain that included admitting to the felony of downloading restricted data. Lee then accused the government of violating the Privacy Act by leaking information about him to the press and asked a judge to subpoena reporters to prove his case. The reporters refused to respond in court. (Their news organizations eventually agreed to contribute $750,000 toward a $1.6 million settlement between Lee and the federal government.)
....In [the Scooter Libby] case,reporters were compelled not simply to reveal their sources, but to testify against them—to name them as leakers in a court of law. Ultimately, Miller spent eighty-five days behind bars for refusing to disclose her source for the Plame leak. (Libby, by contrast, was convicted of lying and obstructing a leak investigation, but served no jail time, thanks to a commutation ordered by President Bush.) More troublesome was the fact that of the nineteen witnesses in the trial, ten were members of the press called in to discuss the leak, "a spectacle that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago," wrote legal reporter Adam Liptak in the Times.
Although [San Francisco Chronicle reporters] Williams ['72] and Fainaru-Wade won't confirm that he was the leaker, BALCO attorney Troy Ellerman admitted that twice in 2004 he’d allowed Fainaru-Wada to take verbatim notes in his office of the grand jury testimony. Yet Ellerman is the same defense lawyer who’d earlier decried the leaks, telling the New York Times that "the jury pool has been infected and our right to fair trial has been jeopardized." He had even filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

If Ellerman is telling the truth, Fainaru-Wada returned to the attorney’s office at least once after Ellerman had filed his motion to dismiss, putting him and Williams in an ethically tenuous position: Ellerman was simultaneously leaking information, pretending he was outraged at the leak, and then using his feigned outrage to his legal advantage. The reporters knew it, and used the information anyway.

As Atrios would say, time to convene a blogger ethics panel. So has Williams learned from his unethical and probably criminal behavior? No
Williams argues that it isn't a reporter's job to police a source's motivations, only to confirm whether the information is true and worth sharing. "To me, the question is always, 'Do we have true info?'" he says. "I don't have a problem talking to a person who has true information, granting them anonymity. The issue for the paper, and for the reporter, is: is it interesting enough to use?"

Actually no, the question is "is this source using me for a nefarious purpose?" If your source is leaking to you so that he can cite your article on Meet the Timmeh the next morning for credibility, or leaking to you so he can get his client's case dismissed, or leaking to you so you can flush the evidence down the proverbial toilet, or leaking to you to start a war on false shouldn't grant them anonymity.

Because the First Amendment requires media self-policing, reporters must only grant anonymity to true whistle blowers, like Risen's source on NSA wiretapping, not Miller's 'Curveball' for her Iraq stories. When the media is too afraid to do anything but cheer lead us into a disastrous war, we have crisis in the media.

When they refuse to admit their mistake and continue to coddle the same sources and people that play them like a drum, the error is compounded. No original critics of the war can get on the TV, but those who lead the charge and want to start another war still get prime time. Or anonymity.

Just remember in a few weeks when "General Petraeus'" report comes out saying what an unmitigated success this escalation of this war has been. And the media sit back and repeat the Administration's talking points for them. Thanks Liberal Media Elites.

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