In a monumental decision, a federal
district judge in Washington, D.C. sentenced New York Times
reporter Judith Miller to an 18-month prison term. Miller was held
in contempt of court for refusing to disclose sources related to
the leaked identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The decision of the
judge threatens the ability of journalists and reporters to
exercise their First Amendment right and inhibits the ability of
media organizations to perform their duties to the public.

Angela Cesere

The protracted controversy began in a New York Times op/ed
piece, published July 6, 2003, in which Joseph Wilson, a former
officer in the Foreign Service, wrote that there was no truth to
President Bush’s claims that Iraq had attempted buy uranium
from the African country of Niger. A little more than a week later,
syndicated columnist Robert Novak wrote that Wilson, who had been
dispatched by the CIA in 2002 to find out if Iraq had sought to
rebuild its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Niger, had
been recommended for the trip by his wife, Plame. Miller, who
considered writing a story on the issue, but did not, may or may
not know who released Plame’s identity.

The ensuing investigation has been centered on the Intelligence
Identities Protection Act of 1982, a law that prohibits
intentionally disclosing a CIA operative’s name without
authorization.

The investigation has demonstrated an unambiguous neglect for
the cherished value of source protection — a principle at the
core of journalistic integrity. Journalism is, and should continue
to be considered, a public service. Absent the legal capacity to
protect anonymous sources, political and corporate scandals like
Watergate and the Enron collapse may never have surfaced in the
media. Lacking assurances of secrecy, employees or at-risk
observers seeking to expose high-level corruption will think twice
before speaking with the press. Unless they are able to shield
anonymity, journalists will be robbed of the capacity to make
investigative reports. The implicit confidentiality agreement
between a reporter and his sources is fundamental to ensuring
journalistic thoroughness.

If journalists are to continue to function as vigilant
intermediaries between the public and the government, the ability
of journalists to perform their duties cannot be hampered. While
Plame’s identity was leaked illegally, it is not
Miller’s fault. The Justice Department should focus its
investigation on the source of the leak, not journalists fulfilling
their investigative duties. Jailing journalists cannot be tolerated
if the rights of free speech and press as stipulated in the First
Amendment are to be respected.

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