Saturday, January 03, 2004

Michael Kinsley writes about the Novak-Plame situation in Slate, noting how bizarre it is that the same journalists who say it is imperative to discover the source of the leaks are saying it is imperative that journalists not be the ones to disclose their sources, the leakers.

Nonsense, he says.
The purpose of protecting the identity of leakers is to encourage future leaks. Leaks to journalists, and the fear of leaks, can be an important restraint on misbehavior by powerful institutions and people. This serves the public interest. But there is no public interest in leaks that harm national security, or leaks that violate the law, or leaks intended to harm blameless individuals. There is no reason to want more of these kinds of leaks. So, there is no reason to protect the identity of such bad-faith leakers.
Nonsense, I say.

It's true that journalists don't disclose leakers' identities as to encourage future leaks. But the fact that this was a mean-spirited leak that doesn't serve the public interest is no reason to identify the leaker. It is only a reason to not publish the information in the first place.

Although Novak failed to make that distinction — or chose to ignore it — that does not mean that disclosing his sources would serve the public interest in the long run. Sources must feel that their anonymity will be protected no matter how much heat the journalist takes.

Also, sources leak information for the "wrong" reasons all the time. That doesn't give the journalist the right or obligation to name them. And if the leaking of this information was a crime, often so is the leaking of other information. It's still not the journalist's job to squeal.

And to bring this on-topic a bit: What's up with the headline? Novak agonistes? Is it a reference to the Greek agonistes, meaning actor? Is it some reference to Milton's "Samson Agonistes"? What is going over my head here?

Also, Kinsley refers to an independent counsel:
Dozens of White House officials have been interviewed. Now the independent counsel will start all over. This is costing millions of taxpayer dollars.
It's probably better to describe Patrick Fitzgerald as a special prosecutor or special counsel, as another Slate article points out here. Congress let the law allowing independent counsels, such as Ken Starr, expire. It was replaced by special-prosecutor regulations.


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