Thoughts on law and journalism from one who is neither, part I

Damn, yesterday was a good day for me. First, I discussed the nature of treason, and then the army announced they were holding five Americans suspected of aiding the terrorists in Iraq. Next, I discussed how nothing is free, in a matter dealing with lawyers and law cases. Then a reporter goes to jail to protect a source in the Valerie Plame case, while another gives up the source.

What’s the connection, you ask? I have two answers for that.

First, the Plame case. I find it supremely ironic that the one journalist currently behind bars is one that never actually wrote a story about Plame. But that puts me in mind of a legal term I heard years ago: “best evidence.”

The definition as I recall it is that a court should always seek the “best evidence” when seeking the truth. That’s why hearsay is not allowed in most cases. The best witnesses are usually considered those who were closest to the event, and paying attention at the time. Reports and testimony about a gun or fingerprints are also good, but they take a back seat to actually having the evidence in question to present to the jury.

In the Plame case, it’s a very simple question. The first person to publicly “out” her as a CIA operative was Robert Novak. He has the “best evidence” as to who in the government revealed her CIA connection. Yet no one, it seems, wants to ask Mr. Novak who his source was.

But that doesn’t keep a lot of the left from demanding Karl Rove “pay” for this. Rove even signed a statement releasing any journalist to whom he has spoken from any pledge of confidentiality, but still no one has (to the best of my knowledge) asked Novak if it was Rove.

When the Plame story first broke, I was outraged at the time — as were a lot of people. And I still am. Politics are politics, but there are some things that are beyond the pale.

I understand that there is some question about whether any laws were technically broken, and it’s looking like they were probably not. So criminal charges are not likely brewing. Besides, I don’t quite grasp how the person who told Novak violated a law, but Novak’s publishing it wasn’t.

But it was still a reprehensible, contemptible act, and I would like to see whoever did disclose her identity to Mr. Novak fired from government service. But I’d also like to see Novak himself face some consequences himself.

And I think it’s a fair comparison to the Sandy Berger case, where a former National Security Advisor actually stole and destroyed highly-classified documents from the National Archives. He paid a $10,000 fine and lost his security clearance for three years for actions that others might spend years behind bars on charges of espionage.

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  1. arb July 7, 2005
  2. Mike July 7, 2005