Fitzmas Update 1/15/07

Brian Zick

Carol Leonnig in WaPo offers a fairly decent preview of the Libby trial. She notes that both Bush administration officials and prominent media personalities will undergo uncomfortable scrutiny. When Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff goes on trial Tuesday on charges of lying about the disclosure of a CIA officer's identity, members of Washington's government and media elite will be answering some embarrassing questions as well. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's case will put on display the secret strategizing of an administration that cherry-picked information to justify war in Iraq and reporters who traded freely in gossip and protected their own interests as they worked on one of the big Washington stories of 2003. The estimated six-week trial will pit current and former Bush administration officials against one another and, if Cheney is called as expected, will mark the first time that a sitting vice president has testified in a criminal case. It also will force the media into painful territory, with as many as 10 journalists called to testify for or against an official who was, for some of them, a confidential source. (…) Presiding U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton and lawyers for both sides will begin selecting 12 jurors along with alternates Tuesday. It is not expected to be an easy task, given the heavy publicity and the involvement of two institutions -- the government and the news media -- low in the public's esteem. Preparing for strong feelings from some D.C. residents, Walton has assembled 100 prospective jurors and has a pool of 100 more standing by. Alas, though Leonnig mentions Judy Miller's false reporting in passing, she neglects the fact that Miller had tried to help Libby cover up his Wilson/Plame smear with a phony First Amendment justification, and she ends her piece with this lament: Charles Tobin, who heads the media law practice for Holland & Knight, said that the case already has had serious consequences for journalists by forcing them to reveal their sources and that it will continue to hurt newsgathering. "There's certainly going to be a hesitation among sources as they see this trial unfold and watch what happens with Libby," Tobin said. "Will they have conversations with reporters if they think those conversations can be used to prosecute them?" Emptywheel at firedoglake spells out precisely why all the hype about "serious consequences for journalists by forcing them to reveal their sources" is in fact total bullshit which completely inverts - and perverts - the whole premise for protecting confidential sources: And therein lies the real problem with the attacks on Fitzgerald in his pursuit of journalists who were leaked information about Valerie Wilson's identity. In all the chest-thumping about the First Amendment and "source protection" and journalists simply "doing their jobs," the very reason for enshrining journalistic privilege got lost. The reporter's privilege of confidentiality is designed to protect those who provide journalists with information of importance to the American public. The idea is to allow whistleblowers to reveal information about corruption or danger or lies without the threat of losing their job.. But in this case, the leaks were made by the powerful-top White House officials-and they were made as retribution, not in any public interest. And they were made in retribution for precisely the kind of activity the reporter's privilege is supposed to protect: someone coming forward with information about mistakes or misjudgments made by the government. Effectively, this situation flipped the First Amendment on its head. Truly powerful people were using journalists as shields to launch attacks on a critic.

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