Friday, December 09, 2005

The damage to the media of the Plame case

Daniel Henninger: Legal advocacy journalism

Why make a federal case out of it? Two reasons emerge. The first is if Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Karl Rove for violating this law, Mr. Rove likely would resign and the Bush presidency would be significantly damaged. The alternative explanation is that the press is merely pursuing a possible violation of federal law and any damage to the presidency is therefore the self-inflicted wound of Ms. Plame's outer. If it is the former, then the conservative paranoia about the press isn't paranoia. If the latter, then the Beltway press has lost its mind; they are making the practice of journalism more litigious for all the rest of us.
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The press requires the protections of the First Amendment because it could never survive legal challenge without it. But the reporting on the Plame case more resembles the Singapore press model, with its penchant for placing absurdist legal fastidiousness above knowing anything useful. In the Plame affair ideological animosity overwhelmed clear-sighted journalistic aggression.
Reporting the news is an informal, imperfect exercise. Journalism was never meant to have the unforgiving, precise exactitude of the law's needs imposed upon it. But because of Plame, it's about to be. Last month an appeals court in a civil suit ruled for nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee that reporters for the Washington Post, AP, New York Times, L.A. Times and CNN had to testify about confidential government sources who leaked information about Mr. Lee.

Someone in authority should have called off the Plame dogs. But it's too late for that. Now everyone's blood is in the water.


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