Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Free Judith Miller

Forgive me, readers, while I stand up for a colleague who is wrongfully in jail, charged with no crime, the victim of a misuse of power. Whatever our politics, we all are protected by a free press, something the Founding Fathers worked hard to make happen. As a former newspaper features writer, I can't sit by while Judith Miller spends another night behind bars.

For anyone who is not aware of the situation, Ms. Miller is a reporter for The New York Times. She's in jail because she refused to reveal her sources that told her about a leak of a CIA operative's name (Victoria Plame) to syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak. Interestingly, Novak has never been subjected to any pressure to reveal his sources, and is not facing prosecution or a subpoena. More interesting still, Miller never wrote about the matter, but apparently was aware of the behind-the-scenes leaking.

The source of the leak appears to be Karl Rove, the president's advisor; the Washington scuttlebutt is that the president's inner circle was angry about an Op-Ed piece Plame's husband wrote for (ironically) The New York Times criticizing the president and his justifications for the invasion of Iraq. However, the politics of the matter are not material to the issue I bring up. The injustice is jailing a reporter for protecting sources.

Simply put, no government official, no corporate insider, no whistle blower would ever come forward if they thought a reporter would give them up at the first sign of heat. I know about talking to insiders "off the record," it allowed me to do my job. Some of them would have lost theirs if I'd identified them in my story.

One justification for jailing Miller is to show the media they're not above the law. But Miller did not break any law! And most ironic of all, Ms. Miller did not write anything about the Victoria Plame matter. Still, the Federal prosecutor in charge wants her to tell him what she knows. It's what's called "a fishing expedition" to find out if there's anything the prosecutor can learn about this and other seamy matters. She refused, and the judge has tossed her into jail on contempt of court. She'll stay there until the current grand jury's term expires in October. The prosecutor is threatening criminal charges against her if she won't testify then, but I think he's just saber-rattling. And now that another reporter has confirmed Karl Rove as the source of the leak, continuing to jail Miller can only strike reasonable people as the abuse of power it always was.

Conservatives hate The Times; Liberals love anything that annoys Conservatives. But this is not about politics. It's about a reporter who stood up for what's right. Please let your elected representatives know you find this situation a threat to the Constitution. The Founding Fathers wanted a free press because they understood that absolute power corrupts absolutely. They were willing to accept the press making mistakes, knowing those mistakes are better than a cowed press afraid to write honestly, even if incorrectly, about the things the government does and the justifications they use to rule. We all need the checks and balances a free press provides.

The media isn't perfect. But they also try to correct their mistakes (the government usually just marks mistakes "Classified"). Without a free press, what's to prevent our government (Republican or Democrat) from telling us what they want us to believe?

To read more about the situation

Anyone wishing to help Judy Miller can send a letter of support to:

Attn: Judith Miller
Inmate Number 45570083
Alexandria Detention Center
2001 Mill Rd
Alexandria, VA 22314-4600

Thanks to Viviane for this suggestion. Who says sex bloggers aren't civic-minded?