Columbia Journalism Review confuses its whistleblowers.

The Columbia Journalism Review has weighed in against the Supreme Court’s refusal to protect the identity of the source who identified Valerie Plame as a CIA station chief in reprisal for her husband’s criticism of Bush administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Niger. “‘Who am I to defy the courts,’ [Norman Pearlstine, the lawyer who serves as Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief] asked himself and others, when even Truman and Nixon bowed to judicial edicts? But that’s an argument based on a false equivalence,” says the Review, essentially arguing that no constitutional crisis results from an editor’s refusal to reveal the sources.

I remain struck, however, by Jim Naureckas’ comments on Democracy Now!, in which he pointed out a couple things:

  1. “I think the cult of secrecy around the C.I.A. is absurd as it goes back 30 years to the case of the C.I.A. station chief in Athens, his name being revealed, and then him being killed I think six or seven days later, assassinated six or seven days later. I think he was — his name appeared in a newsletter, a sort of a left wing anti-C.I.A. newsletter. And the response at that time was, ‘Ah, this proves that if you name agents, they’re going to be killed, or they’re going to be compromised,’ and so on and so forth. Except that everybody who wanted to know who the C.I.A. station chief in Athens already knew who it was. So I never bought that. It’s the job of the C.I.A. station chief in a given city, foreign city, to be known, so that they can be approached by other agents and by people who want to leak them information.”
  2. “I think it’s important to distinguish between leaks from the government and plants by the government. These are two different kinds of animals. It’s one thing for a whistleblower to reveal government wrongdoing, and that kind of action, you know, I think is heroic and needs to be protected. And there needs to be stronger protection for journalists who don’t want to reveal that kind of source. On the other hand, the vast majority of anonymous sources that you see in mainstream media are not whistleblowers. They’re government operatives. They’re people who are working anonymously for the government in order to get out the government’s agenda.”

In the context that the source of the leak might be White House media manipulator Karl Rove, Naureckas’ second comment seems particularly relevant. Naureckas argues that the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent did not expose government wrongdoing, but was instead itself an act of wrongdoing, not only violating the law and arguably placing Plame’s life at risk, but being an act of retaliation against her husband’s criticism of Bush administration claims.

It’s easy, I think, to get one’s head twisted on this issue. And this is a case where Naureckas, of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, may very well have it right. Karl Rove–or whoever leaked Valerie Plame’s identity–is no whistleblower and should not be mistaken for one.

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