In today’s Washington Post op-ed page, David Ignatius bemoans the poor choice of making a stand for confidential sources in the Plame fight and endorses a federal shield law for members of the media.
His piece is solid, noting that source-journalist privilege has always been about a balancing test — would releasing a given source’s identity serve the public interest? And in conclusion, he calls for journalists to show discretion about when they’re going to pick their fights over anonymous sources and journalistic privilege.
But I would go one further: Journalists need to re-evaluate the extension of anonymity to sources. Should anonymity be extended to a government spokesperson? To a group of generals giving a briefing on the upcoming year’s defense appropriations? To a political operative who is smearing the other campaign? To a whistleblower? To a whistleblower who just wants revenge for not being promoted?
The question for journalists is not merely whether to defend the privilege, but also whether that privilege should be invoked in the first place.