Daniel Henninger sees the end result of the mediagenic Plame case as I do: a disaster for the Fourth Estate which created it.
It is bitterly ironic that this most apolitical of prosecutors has come to Washington and is sucking into his legalistic maw one journalist after another, while the press privilege to protect sources is put at risk. Yet the legal raccoon hunt continues. The impression remains that if the Beltway press could tree Karl Rove or Dick Cheney for an IIPA violation, the sacrifice of their colleagues and any potential damage done to newsgathering would be regarded as well worth it. The relish with which the pack descended to chew on Bob Woodward for not joining them is proof enough of that.
If the Libby case goes to trial, Mr. Libby himself will be a sideshow compared to what his lawyers are likely to display to the public about the practice of journalism. It has been reported that his lawyers plan to make wide demands for reporters' notes. One can imagine them issuing subpoenas for the pen—and—pencil reporting notebooks of Matt Cooper, Judith Miller and others, having a hand—writing expert transcribe the notes, and then asking the reporters to read——or try to read——their notes on the stand against a transcript onscreen. That won't be pretty. Unless these reporters have the handwriting of nuns and recall of Garry Kasparov, they will look like fumbling fools. Any of us would.
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.
Clarice Feldman 12 09 05