Friday, July 01, 2005

They Write Letters

John Martellaro writes to Romenesko (which I'll reproduce as there's no permanent way to link to it that I'm aware of):

From JOHN MARTELLARO: Where’s the outrage among journalists and other First Amendment partisans over the Miller-Cooper case?

Hunkered down in the same corner where it was the last time the sound and noble principle of the First Amendment had to be defended on behalf of a horrifically bad example of its use: the march of Illinois Nazis through the town of Skokie in the late 1970s.

You know in your head that the principle is right. In your heart, you have nothing but contempt for the individuals who are taking advantage of it for their own selfish ends.

There can be no debate that confidential sourcing is essential to good journalism and that journalists – and those who benefit from its proper execution – should stand fast for that principle. There also should be no debate that Cooper and Miller engaged in astoundingly bad judgment in granting anonymity to sources in this particular case.

The whole purpose of anonymous sourcing is to level the playing field between the powerful and the powerless. Anonymity is supposed to be granted to sources who fear some kind of retribution for speaking the truth -- being fired, being sued, being assaulted, etc.

It was never intended to be used the way it has been utterly abused in recent decades by the Washington press corps: to gain a competitive advantage against other reporters. Their passion is not for the public interest but for career-advancing scoops, and to get them, they are willing to give the powerful a shield that allows these Washington mandarins to engage in political gamesmanship with their peers, to float trial balloons, to spread disinformation without consequences or -- in the case of Valerie Plame -- to commit a felony offense in order to exact political punishment against opponents further down on the political food chain.

What should be a valuable tool for speaking truth to power has been put in serious jeopardy by vain fools who have completely lost sight of the reason why First Amendment protection exists in the first place. It's not there to make it easier for them to strut and preen on Sunday morning televised gabfests.

Reporters who do the real work of watchdog journalism in this country -- most of whom rarely if ever go to Washington, D.C. – are the ones who will suffer for this.