The big news in magazines this week, of course, is Newsweek’s bombshell that Karl Rove was the guy who told Time journalist Matt Cooper that Valerie Plame was in the employ of the CIA. As we’ve all read, Rove never actually used Plame’s name in speaking to Cooper, which might get him off the legal hook, if not the moral one nor the political one — although since he said “Joe Wilson’s wife” was behind Wilson’s trip to Africa to investigate the yellowcake claims, one wonders how many wives the crafty Wilson can have been expected to have.
The saga continues.
Keeping on the secret source/First Amendment beat, we turn to the New York Review of Books which features a lengthy essay by Anthony Lewis on Floyd Abrams, the most prominent First Amendment lawyer in the country. (Abrams has new book out, Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment.) Lewis traces the history of press freedom in the United States, recalling the Sedition Acts passed by a Federalist Congress in 1798 and by President Wilson during the First World War. Under these acts, editors and political pamphleteers were imprisoned for criticizing the federal government — sometimes for up to 20 years. Lewis points out what is so special about press freedom in the United States, and what makes it so worth protecting if we intend to stand apart from the rest of the world in the leeway we give our press:
Of course not every claim of First Amendment protection has succeeded. But freedom of expression gets more protection today in this country than in any other. No other country, in particular, protects defamatory publications or hate speech in the expansive way that American law now does.
Lewis goes on to actually review Abrams’ book, but the piece as a whole is quite a rallying cry for the continued protection of our right, as citizens, to speak freely and without fear.
Meantime — feeling left out when friends and colleagues natter on knowingly about Miller and Cooper and Novak and Rove? Your cheat sheet has arrived in this week’s New York magazine, in the form of Franklin Foer and Ryan Lizza’s “easy reference guide to how it was that the media ended up on trial.” Foer and Lizza deliver water cooler-ready one-liners such as: “On the bright side … [Judy Miller’s] martyrdom has salvaged her reputation after her WMD ‘scoops.’ On the brighter side … Conversations with jailhouse neighbor Zacarias Moussaoui could yield a blockbuster al Qaeda story. ‘Sources close to Osama bin Laden …’”
On an even lighter note, Weekly Standard subscribers are treated this week to P.J. O’Rourke’s take on Cooper/MillerGate. You can get this passing New York Times crack in the free blurb available on the Standard’s site: “…[N]ever mind that Judith Miller never wrote anything. For all we know Miller was interested in Plame because Miller was working on a ‘Secret Souffles of the Spies’ feature for one of those ever-proliferating New York Times ‘Home,’ ‘Style,’ ‘Food,’ ‘Home-Style Food’ sections.” But you’ll have to pay to read O’Rourke’s explanation to “politicos” as to why “you do not want to put journalists in jail.” (We pay, so here are a couple of O’Rourke’s reasons: “[Journalists are] wimps. All we do is write Frank Rich-type snide op-eds. Prison might toughen us up. At press conferences will you still be giving the same lame, evasive answers when you know the press corps can turn its ballpoints into deadly shivs?” and; “[W]e can make your life a living hell. Oh, not the way we think we can with a six-part investigative series, innuendo-filled opinion pieces, or, for that matter, anonymous sources. But we can forget about you. You can just slip our mind and never be mentioned in the media again.”)
In other news, The Progressive this month takes a look at how some large American companies are scrapping their pension programs, thereby putting their longtime employees who are approaching retirement in a hard spot. Instead of offering their employees their promised benefits, these companies are “throwing responsibility for them onto the unsteady lap of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Formed by the government in 1974, this entity was entrusted with ensuring the pensions of companies that go belly up.” Not only will many retirees see their pensions reduced by 30 to 50 percent, but the PBGC is currently running a $23 billion deficit, which doesn’t bode well for the future.
Somehow, the president’s Social Security privatization plan just became a little less attractive.