Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » February 2005 » Journalistic Priviledges

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02/21/2005: Journalistic Priviledges

Michael Kinsley over a the LA Times has this to say: It's Been a Privilege.

"...Most farmers, like most journalists, are patriotic and well meaning. And not stupid, either. So how can they believe that their special interest in receiving large checks from the general taxpayer coincides with the general taxpayer's interest? Partly, it's self-deception one of the more enjoyable human capabilities. Partly, though, it is self- selection. Farmers believe in the nobility of farming because people who believe in the nobility of farming become farmers.

And people who believe in journalism become journalists. Belief in journalism is not widespread these days. People think journalists are biased, that they make things up, that they are arrogant, self-involved, and self-important. But the folks who become journalists (including me) are more likely to regard journalism as a noble calling that serves the nation, its values and the world. That is why, even at this low point in public esteem, many journalists are unembarrassed to assert that they are above the law.

That is essentially what the journalistic profession is claiming in the current controversy over the special prosecutor's investigation of White House leaks. Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine have refused to testify about who may have leaked to them the identity of an undercover intelligence agent. Last week, a federal appeals court ruling upheld a lower-court order that Miller and Cooper must testify or go to jail.

That is a travesty. These two public-spirited journalists promised anonymity to sources at a time when the law about "journalist's privilege" was unclear. Having made that promise, they feel obligated to keep it. If they shouldn't have made that promise, society should have sent them a clearer message to that effect. Before we start jailing journalists for keeping a promise, we need to decide when such a promise should or should not be made.

Journalists are claiming to be above the law in two different senses. First, there are laws requiring citizens to supply information under oath. Second, there are laws that can't be enforced without a journalist's testimony. Journalists are saying, in both cases, that whether to testify is up to us."

Karen on 02.21.05 @ 03:33 AM CST

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