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July 15, 2005

Karl Rove, Mathew Cooper, and Judith Miller Are All Wrong

Given Karl Rove’s reputation as the ultimate political advisor, it is surprising that he hasn’t advised George Bush to fire him.  Given Rove’s reputation for loyalty, it is surprising he hasn’t resigned.  By the way, I voted for George W. Bush, supported and continue to support the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; but none of that makes Rove right or even OK.

Firing Rove is the right thing for the President to do both as the national leader and as a politician.  I don’t know whether Karl Rove broke the law when he said that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and made it possible for any Google user to find out her actual identity; the special prosecutor will have to work that out.  But I do know that government officials have no business contributing to the public exposure of CIA agents, particularly while we are involved in a war where intelligence is more important and harder to obtain than pure firepower.

Bill Clinton’s hairsplitting over the definitions of “is” and “sex” may have had legal validity.  It was rightly ridiculed as inappropriate for the President of the United States. Hairsplitting over whether Rove actually spoke the name of a CIA operative or just pointed reporters in the right direction to find it out is equally inappropriate in a national leader even if this makes a difference in whether Rove committed a criminal act or not.

But, since what Rove did was wrong, why is it right for reporters to protect HIS identity or the identity of some yet unknown second official who leaked similar information?  I don’t think it is!

We have a tradition in the US that reporters DO protect their sources.  This tradition has served us well by giving whistleblowers the protection they require in order to expose government malfeasance.  Watergate is an obvious example of that.  It often happens that the whistleblower himself or herself is more interested in revenge than good government – Watergate may be an example of that, also; but, no matter what the motive of the source, when the result is outing corruption or government crime, the tradition serves us well.

There is no explicit constitutionally guaranteed right of reporters to protect their sources.  There is no federal law which authorizes reporters to protect their sources although a majority of the states do have “shield” laws which give protection in some circumstances.  Those of us who are not reporters (do bloggers count?) or lawyers or doctors or priests can be forced to testify under threat of prison even in civil cases

We also have a tradition of civil disobedience.  People of principle are willing to go to jail for those principles.  The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s including forbidden marches and sit-ins at segregated lunch counters was a positive example of civil disobedience.  The trashing attacks by antiglobalization protestors are NOT positive examples.

Although it was brave and honorable for Judith Miller to go to jail to keep her promise to her source, it was wrong for Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper to promise protection to Karl Rove or anyone else whose purpose was to out a CIA operative for political reasons.  Valerie Wilson was not committing a crime which needed to be exposed.  If there was any crime being committed, it was the exposure of Valerie as a CIA operative.  In that sense the reporters were co-conspirators, not clarions of righteousness.

If all the reporters’ notes HAD been kept secret and no reporters had revealed their sources, then a cover-up might have indeed succeeded.  Karl Rove (and whomever else is involved) would have been able to cover up their politically motivated misdeeds.  The purpose of our tradition of confidential sources is to check the power of government to hide its misdeeds, not to abet it.

Fred Wilson is more favorably disposed to Judith Miller and there is a heated but excellent discussion of the whole issue in the comments following his post.

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