April 8, 2005
Reporter's Privilege versus Grand Jury Investigation
It sounds like the investigation into leaks regarding "the disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame" has reached a stumbling block. The prosecutor handling the case can't seem to get the information needed and the reporters aren't talking. The NY Times and Time magazine reporter have their cause up on appeal and unless they are successful in that court, the issue may be whether they face jail or talk. And the special prosecutor is describing his investigation as "for all practical purposes complete." See more in the NYTimes here.
If reporters are going to obtain information, it is necessary for them to provide some protection to their sources. Sources will not provide information for the public unless they are assured anonymity. But on the other hand, what happens when the failure to provide information stalls an investigation, and the investigation is a grand jury into possible criminal offenses that may have been committed. And the crime may have involved " two senior administration officials." But then again, there may be no crime here.
Several questions to consider here:
If this were a homicide case, would people be outraged by the conduct of the reporters, and demand that they talk? Should it make a difference that this is a white collar case?
On the other hand, if the press does not investigate and report on what happens within the federal administration, who will? Isn't it therefore more important to have the reporter's privilege in this context so that the public can continue to receive information that can be helpful to them in evaluating government conduct?
This is clearly a tough one, and the court's will need to resolve the issue. But if they rule that the reporters talk or go to jail, one has to wonder if jail is the correct answer here. Will it really make a difference, and will the people hurt by this merely be the families of the reporters.
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