Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Step up to the Plate

In comments, anonymous writes:

Its time for the other journalists to come out and tell us who it is. They are protecting a criminal that has damaged national security. Would they protect a pederast? Why would they protect someone that, if this story is true, could cause a national security disaster and end the lives of Plame's contacts.

There is no loss of credibility for a journalist to expose a treasonist leaker and if they continue they are guilty of aiding and abetting. They know who it is according to Wilson. They can nip it in the bud and save the taxpayers millions of dollars and keep this country focused on the war on terrorism instead of chasing ghosts.

Come on, be a hero.

Jack Shafer finally says something reasonable:

The hard-and-fast rules that govern confidential sourcing leave a half-dozen news organizations in a position where they know the leakers' identities as institutions but can't force individual reporters to reveal their names without violating the journalistic taboo of "burning" a confidential source. If the journalists in the know were to surrender the names of their White House sources, they'd be shunned by their peers and (more important) frozen out by future confidential sources because they're untrustworthy. They might as well move their butts over to the obit desk. (One state court has even found that a confidentiality agreement with a reporter is contractual, enforceable by law.)

But it's not like Washington journalists like to play "get the leaker" in the first place. They don't even like to examine the motives of the confidential sources who appear in their own newspapers or the pages of the competition. It's considered poor form in Washington to uncover another reporter's confidential sources, but not because it's bad journalism. Confidential sources are the grease that makes the wheels of Washington journalism turn, and anybody who disturbs the cloak of anonymity undermines what 80 percent of the reporters in town do. Because Washington reporters outnumber worthwhile confidential sources by a ratio of 10 to 1 (or greater), confidential sources can usually pick the most advantageous (to them) terms for dispensing information. For that reason alone, most Washington reporters would rather acquire the other guy's confidential sources than expose them.

This may explain why none of the reporters who talked to the White House sources filed the more newsworthy story: namely, that the normally leak-free administration was attempting to put Ambassador Wilson in an unflattering light by connecting his Niger mission in some nepotistic fashion to his wife's position as a CIA employee, and damage her cover in the process. Any of the reporters could have published a story about how an administration source was talking trash about Wilson without naming Valerie Plame or violating their confidentiality agreements. So, why didn't they? I can only assume that the reporters calculated that with confidential administration sources being so rare these days, they shouldn't do anything that would deter a future leak. So, they ignored the tip and declined to expose the leakers' skulduggery in hopes of getting a different—and perhaps less dicey—story leaked to them later.

The Novak-Wilson-Plame story illustrates in creepy fashion what happens when reporters, especially Washington reporters, become too beholden to their sources. They forget that they're supposed to answer to their readers, not their sources. And when they're obsessed with keeping their confidential sources happy, they end up missing the story.

For shame.