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Fixing a Leak

Times reporter Judith Miller landed behind bars for a story she didn’t write about a crime she didn’t commit. Our easy reference guide to how it was that the media ended up on trial.

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Judith Miller’s troubles can be traced back to a Times op-ed written two years ago by ex-ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that challenged President Bush’s assertion that Iraq tried to buy nuclear-bomb-making material from Africa. The administration was none too pleased about Wilson’s arguments, and soon after, columnist Robert Novak revealed that Wilson is married to a CIA agent named Valerie Plame, citing two sources inside the administration. Federal law prohibits officials from naming covert operatives like Plame, and Democrats cried foul, leading to the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who was charged with determining whether Bushies leaked to reporters Miller, Novak, and Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper. The investigation has, for the time being, obscured whatever government misdeeds were committed with the spectacle of journalists’ refusing court orders. But as a review of the various players and their motives shows, that may not last for long.

Judith Miller
Backstory
The Pulitzer winner’s anonymous sources return to haunt her, again. Before, faceless defectors persuaded her to trumpet Saddam’s supposed cache of WMD. Now her refusal to name her Deep Throat—for a story that never materialized—has landed her in the Big House. All the other reporters involved in the case apparently worked out agreements with their sources and the prosecutor, enabling them to testify. But that wasn’t good enough for her. She has resorted to civil disobedience to uphold her profession’s honor.

On the bright side
Her martyrdom has salvaged her reputation after her WMD “scoops.”

On the brighter side
Conversations with jailhouse neighbor Zacarias Moussaoui could yield a blockbuster Al Qaeda story. “Sources close to Osama bin Laden . . . ”

Matthew Cooper
Backstory
Why isn’t the Time reporter in shackles? Unlike the First Amendment crusaders at the Times, Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine handed over Cooper’s notes, which revealed Karl Rove as one of Cooper’s sources. Not good enough, said Fitzgerald, who demanded testimony from Cooper or jail. Cooper steeled himself for lockup, but then made a dramatic courthouse announcement that his source had granted “an express, personal release” from their confidentiality agreement, sparing himself a White House reporter’s version of hell: doing hard time to protect Karl Rove.

Why the eleventh-hour reprieve?
Cooper would testify only if Rove explicitly released him from their agreement. Having been outed by Cooper’s notes anyway, Rove may have decided he’d come out looking even worse by allowing Cooper to rot in jail.

Patrick Fitzgerald
Backstory
The Chicago prosecutor tapped by the Justice Department to hunt down the leaker is known as a Giuliani wannabe, and he has made himself utterly friendless. Conservatives accuse him of confusing Washington gossip with a mob hit; Plame, they contend, was widely known to be a spook. Many reporters accuse him of pathologically disrespecting them. (He’s trying to obtain Miller’s phone logs in an unrelated case about Islamic charities.)

Why you should, at least for one second, cut him slack
Tough tactics may be the only way to bust a leaker. He must prove that an official knowingly revealed the identity of an active undercover agent. Evidence gleaned from his zealous pursuit of Cooper and Miller may help build a rock-solid case against the leaker.

Karl Rove
Backstory
Will Fitzgerald frog-march the man known as “Bush’s Brain” out of the White House in handcuffs? Swatting away the story, the White House once insisted that Rove “was not involved.” But after Time handed over Cooper’s notes last week, that claim was exposed as a fib. Now Rove’s lawyer has resorted to sophistry, insisting Bush’s strategist did not disclose classified information “knowingly.”

Odds he’ll join Judy in the pen
Remote. Rove has always had the means (access to sensitive information), motive (payback against Wilson), and opportunity (access to reporters) to commit the crime. But the law is arcane, and Rove’s dirty tricks always go unpunished.

Scandal’s O. J. Simpson moment
Bush once promised to extricate the leaker. Little did he know that might involve a lobotomy.

Robert Novak
Backstory
You might wonder why Novak doesn’t stay up at night imagining himself in an orange jumpsuit. In fact, you might think worse of him. With his deep-set eyes, three-piece suits, and screechy voice, he makes a perfect stock villain. But is he? Though his story was the first to reveal Plame’s identity, Novak has strangely steered clear of Fitzgerald’s prosecutorial path. Or, at least it seems that way. Novak won’t say if his sources waived their confidentiality; and he won’t say if he, in turn, recounted his conversations with them to the grand jury. Some Democrats have suggested that Fitzgerald, a Republican appointee, cut him a sweet deal.

An alternative theory
Perhaps Novak’s conservatism means he doesn’t hold a very expansive view of the First Amendment. Then again, maybe he’s just a villain.


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