Thursday, June 30, 2005

With your shield, or on it

This morning brings a couple of news items from the journalism front. Time magazine has decided to turn over files in the Valerie Plame case, saving its reporter from jail. No word yet on whether the New York Times will act in the same manner.
The Supreme Court earlier this week declined to interfere with the lower court's ruling that the journalists could be jailed for refusing to testify as to the person who leaked a CIA agent's identity. The strange thing about this case: Robert Novak, the conservative pundit who actually reported her name, remains a non-participant in these legal games, while the federal prosecutor has been pressuring Judith Miller of the Times - who didn't write about the agent - and Matthew Cooper of Time, who did so only after Novak's report.
This case and a Tuesday lower-court ruling against a reporter in the Wen Ho Lee case are cast against the heroic but fading shadow of Watergate and the "Deep Throat" revelations.
Journalists who would have scoffed at the idea of "shield laws" and government protection back then are reconsidering, in light of these cases and others that seem to march to the martial tune of national security. The Christian Science Monitor has this article on the debate:
Reporters aren't much trusted today, after reports of plagiarism, fabricated documents, bogus sources and more. As one of the generation who entered journalism school inspired by Woodward and Bernstein, I've watched the graphs move year by year - ethics down, competition up; news content down, entertainment up.
I emphasize ethics in the classroom. "Do the right thing" is the mantra. Seek justice and treat people fairly.
Is this enough?
When students are faced with the use of anonymous sources, I refer them to the Post's decision in the Watergate investigation: three independent sources must verify for anonymous material to be used.
Is this enough?
And if state shield laws become national, who decides which journalists are worthy of protection?

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