With Miller Behind Bars, the Knives Come Out

With Judy in jail — a development that yesterday left even Wonkette “sort [of] out of glib right now” — the blogosphere bubbles with a range of reactions (including, in case you missed it, ours).

There is, of course, the inevitable schadenfreude. To wit, in a post titled “Pity the Poor Journalist,” Oliver Willis huffs: “While Judith Miller is hanging out in jail, I wonder if she’ll ponder the reporting she did that helped usher us off to war?” Also holding a grudge is James Wolcott, who snipes: “Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, described Judith Miller, who has been ushered into incarceration over her refusal to testify in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, as ‘an honorable journalist.’ Tell it to the Iraqi dead.”

It is “precisely because so many people don’t find Miller a sympathetic reporter,” contends Laura Rozen at War and Piece, that the case “was useful.” Rozen continues: “This is just grim. This week Miller, next month, who knows, it could be the Seymour Hershes of this world who expose Abu Ghraibs, My Lai and controversial US foreign entanglements based on relationships of trust with anonymous sources.” Also sounding the “wither the whistleblower” note is Kevin Drum, who offers in bullet-point form his “hopelessly jumbled thoughts” on what he calls “a crappy test case for my belief that a reporter-source privilege is something worth supporting.” Like Rozen, Drum urges readers to “set personalities aside,” adding that “the facts of the case are important, but the fact that you like or hate Judith Miller isn’t. Ditto for Karl Rove.” Writes Drum: “[A] lot of potential sources are going to be very reluctant to come forward in the future after seeing what Time Inc. and Cooper did.” Further, “White House abuse of anonymity — and the media’s supine acceptance of it — won’t be affected one whit by any of this because trashing your enemies anonymously isn’t illegal. Conversely, whistleblowers break the law all the time and presidents are always eager to catch them. The lesson for reporters’ sources is obvious, and if this trend continues we’ll all be the poorer for it.”

On the contrary, according to Roger Simon, who contends that “we” won’t be “poorer for it” but rather richer, much richer. Pleased that “reporters’ supposed legal entitlement to secret sources may have about reached its end point,” Simon argues that “the public — often confused or even misled by information coming from such secret sources — is the beneficiary of all this.”

No more confidential sources, eh, Roger? That should come as very good news for any venal government employee worried that his colleagues might tell a reporter what he’s up to. Or to anyone who thinks that the morning paper should be little more than a collection of PR releases and position papers.

Liz Cox Barrett

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.