Nobody’s Shedding Any Tears For Journalists Held In Contempt These Days

Former chief spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, Mark Corallo, is complaining about the ramifications reporters are facing for misbehavior:

“All that is at risk in the Justice Department these days. In the past few months, the department allowed the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles to subpoena two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the baseball steroids scandal to get them to reveal the source of the leak of Barry Bonds’ and Jason Giambi’s grand jury testimony. The journalists, whose courageous reporting forced baseball to deal with the steroid problem after ignoring it for a decade, now face jail if they refuse to give up their sources. (In the interest of full disclosure, I filed an affidavit in support of the reporters.)

And in the Eastern District of Virginia, the Justice Department is using antiquated espionage statutes to prosecute two lobbyists for the pro-Israel organization AIPAC for receiving classified information. This is significant because it provides a chilling prospect for the many members of the media who receive classified information (most often unknowingly) on a daily basis.

Will federal prosecutors use this case as the precedent to go after reporters for getting leaks? It’s not wild speculation. In public statements, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has hinted that this may be an avenue of attack in future cases.

From these and other recent examples, it’s clear there has been a shift in policy – a dramatic shift for the worse.

…The current Justice leadership either doesn’t have the backbone to say “no” when prosecutors want to subpoena reporters or it agrees with their judgments. In either event, the results are dangerous.”

There was a time when I was extremely sympathetic to this sort of argument. For example, way back in 2001*, when Vanessa Leggett spent 168 days in jail for contempt because she wouldn’t give up her research materials, I aimed a lot of scalding criticism at the DOJ over the case. Moreover, I generally don’t support prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information. However, I no longer have any sympathy for journalists who go to jail to “protect their sources.”

Know why?

Because with rights, come responsibilities and unfortunately, we can no longer count on journalists to behave responsibly. In the middle of a war with Islamo-Fascists who want to murder as many Americans as possible, some of the biggest papers in the country no longer seem to have any qualms about putting American lives at risk with their stories. They tell the terrorists (and the rest of the world) about secret programs designed to safeguard American lives. They put the methods our intelligence agencies use to track down terrorists on their front pages. Even when the government asks them not to publish because it may aid the terrorists in killing Americans, these papers don’t care.

Of course, the government has always had the ability to be much tougher on journalists if they so desired, but, as part of, let’s say an unspoken “gentleman’s agreement,” they’ve treated journos with kid gloves. But when the press becomes so callous that they’re giving the terrorists the info they need to kill Americans and evade capture just so they can slap a splashy headline on their front page, it gets harder to rationalize giving the press a break.

The reality is that reporters and, for that matter, bloggers, don’t have the right to, “withhold their sources,” in court. You do have a right to avoid self-incrimination, but there’s nothing about protecting your sources in the Constitution. While this is too bad for the reporters in the Bonds case, who are really getting caught up in the crossfire that has erupted between the press and the government, the press as a whole has brought this on themselves with their behavior.

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