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News Media Last Updated: Dec 31st, 2005 - 13:52:10

Miller and Cooper: Two different cases
By Margie Burns
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jul 2, 2005, 11:19

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In spite of all the publicity over the cases of Time reporter Matthew Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller�cases the Supreme Court declined to hear�little is known definitively even now about how many times reporters were contacted by those unnamed �administration officials� who leaked the item that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson�s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.

In his July 14, 2002, column utilizing this leak, conservative pundit Robert Novak stated, �Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. 'I will not answer any question about my wife,' Wilson told me.� This sentence sequence, of course, clearly implies though it does not state that the same �two senior administration officials� informed Novak that Plame was a CIA operative.

The thoroughness of this outing should not be underestimated, or doubted. A search of the published journalism database in Lexis-Nexis yields zero results for the name �Valerie Plame� for 2002 in all major newspapers, wires or transcripts (and precious few mentions of Joseph Wilson, whose ill-fated Niger trip was obviously never intended by the administration to bring light). For 2003, it yields 642�all dating from after Novak�s column. (For the record, Lexis yields zero mentions of Valerie Plame in all major categories from 1980 to mid-2003.) When this administration outs someone, that person gets outed and stays outed.

The ability of the man in the White House to exert pressure on any senior administration official, from his own chief of staff on down, should also not be doubted. Had the White House acted affirmatively, the identity of the leaker�who surely was not acting unconsciously�would be known by now without putting the taxpayers to the expense of a federal investigation. �Senior� is code for a pretty small and well-placed group.

It is hard to understand why Miller�s case, in particular, is about �protecting sources.� This was not a source but a user; the object was not to disclose something in the public interest but to help a White House bent on deceitful and destructive secrecy�by punishing someone, Joseph Wilson, who had disclosed things to the public, by outing his wife as a CIA operative. The public has not been told definitively whether Miller did promise to keep the �source��that is, the administration official�secret. The implication is that the source called her, rather than the other way around, and reportedly they did the same with several prominent news outlets.

I sympathize with Matthew Cooper and do not understand why his case is tied to Miller�s. If Cooper picked up the ball and ran with it by doing further investigation and then writing an actual article on the topic, something Miller did not do, then his administration contact became arguably an actual source. That makes his case less like Miller�s and more like that of freelance writer Vanessa Leggett in Texas. I hope he ends up with a book deal like hers.

But as Miller�s defense has repeatedly pointed out, she never even wrote an article on this outing. Therefore, her defense seems to be not that she was working as a journalist at the time but merely that she is a journalist, and that�s why she received the phone call/contact.

To a non-lawyer, this seems like arguing that a priest has the protected secrecy of the confessional even when he�s just sitting at a bus stop and some murderer confesses a crime to him.

Giving that kind of blanket protection�that we do not give even to priests�to every journalist who gets a phone call would give a blanket incentive to call up reporters and tell them things, just so they will never be reported. This official, be it again noted, was no Daniel Ellsberg releasing papers the public needed to see, and no staffer who had things wormed out of him by a persevering reporter under a promise of secrecy. It was someone�perhaps in the White House itself�who called up at least six reporters to tell them a highly selective item of information, about somebody�s wife at that, and at the expense of both full disclosure to the public and national security. Not a feat everybody could pull off.

Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be reached at

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