It seems Salon.com’s readers have been giving them a hard time about their support for Judith Miller, who is now in jail for refusing to reveal that Karl Rove leaked Valerie Plame’s name in retribution for her husband’s debunking of Bush administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Niger. Andrew O’Hehir has now taken two stabs at explaining this view held widely by journalists. The first was yesterday and pretty much repeated the same arguments, failing to convincingly refute the notion that if anyone in this story was a whistleblower, it was Joe Wilson, and certainly not Karl Rove. Many readers are furious with Miller, who played a large role in the Bush administration/Chalabi propaganda about weapons of mass destruction, but this is a separate issue, and journalists correctly distinguish between the two.
O’Hehir takes another stab at it again today, in which he cites “letter writers [who] have largely moved away from the emotional argument that Judith Miller belongs in jail because of her WMD stories” and to these arguments:
1) The First Amendment does not offer any blanket protection of journalists’ confidential sources, either in its explicit language or in judicial interpretations. 2) Whoever told Miller about Valerie Plame was committing a crime, so that source is entitled to no protection; Miller can and should be compelled to reveal his/her identity. 3) Only whistle-blowers who are leaking information about criminal (or perhaps unethical) behavior should be accorded legal protection; if the leaked information is self-serving or illegal or, for instance, part of a government propaganda operation, it merits no shield. 4) Miller was not acting as a journalist, but working inside the New York Times as a water-carrier or accomplice (or even “neocon mole”) for the White House agenda, and as such she has forfeited all First Amendment protection.
My arguments, based on those of Jim Naureckas on Democracy Now!, can be summed as #2 and #3. O’Hehir, taking the arguments in reverse order, addresses #3, saying:
This one is entirely subjective. The distinction between “protecting a whistle-blower and protecting a hit man” has become the mantra of the lefty blogosphere on the Miller-Plame case. It sure sounds good. But, hey — who gets to decide which is which? Readers of Salon and the Daily Kos? Or readers of, say, the National Review and the Wall Street Journal? Does the country get to vote on it? If so, how confident are you that the results will be gratifying? The Wednesday edition of the Journal, in fact, features an editorial titled “Karl Rove, Whistleblower” which opines that in leaking Plame’s identity to Time reporter Matthew Cooper, Rove exposed “a case of CIA nepotism” and “provided important background so Americans could understand that Mr. Wilson wasn’t a whistleblower but was a partisan trying to discredit the Iraq War in an election campaign.”
Actually, the distinction between whistle-blowers and hit men sounds better than good. When O’Hehir argues that “the distinction is almost always going to be political,” he makes an argument that sounds good, right up until you consider first, that the source being protected is Karl Rove, who has made a career of deception and media manipulation, and who was using Judith Miller in an attempt to suppress truth and manipulate the media; and second, that Joe Wilson, Plame’s husband, was telling the truth and exposing deception. It is still Wilson–despite anyone else’s attempt to paint it otherwise–who comes closest to deserving whistleblower protection in this case. When you consider that the Bush administration was using a false claim of an attempted uranium purchase to justify a war on Iraq, with an ongoing cost of dozens of lives daily (mostly Iraqi), Rove was engaging in a murderous deception that in addition to leading to death in unjustified war, supposedly placed Plame’s life in jeopardy.
As for argument #2, O’Hehir essentially argues that no crime was committed, as the applicable law was narrowly written. He goes on to criticize the left for making this argument when it has so often resorted to civil disobedience for expeditiously choosing which laws it wants enforced under which circumstances.
To sustain this argument, O’Hehir needs to equate the suppression of truth in the service of killing with its exposure in the service of seeking to preserve life. He can not; and in a reach for moral objectivity, his argument fails. This is a moral equivalence I cannot accept.