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So, Time magazine has decided to follow a court order by turning over documents relating to their reporter’s story about a CIA leak, documents about a source that their reporter was willing to go to jail to protect.

From Editor and Publisher: NEW YORK—Time Inc. will hand over documents in the Matt Cooper/Judith Miller case on Friday, E&P has learned ... Time magazine Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine said he decided to turn over documents that would reveal reporter Cooper’s source in the Valerie Plame case to a special prosecutor because following the law is more important than keeping the source confidential.

“We did not have a valid argument to support the assertion that we are above the law,” Pearlstine told E&P. “I think it sets a bad precedent for journalists to think they are above the law, it leads to anarchy. That is one of the reasons the press is held in such low esteem.”

Pearlstine, that’s not why the press is held in low esteem.

Your reporter made a promise to his sources.  That promise may have been ill-advised, but it’s not an uncommon type of promise.  In fact, it’s the kind of promise every journalist makes to a source each and every time they agree to an interview that isn’t fully on the record.  It’s a bedrock commitment and a key tool of a reporter.  And it is the reporter who decides when and under what conditions to make it.  You have t hire and trust your reporters to make that promise wisely, and back that reporter’s decision.

Because otherwise, you’re saying that the reporter doesn’t have the right to promise an off-the-record conversation without some sort of corporate approval—and it’s that creeping, pervasive corporization of the press that people distrust.  You’ve just move the ball 20 yards downfield towards the “big media can’t be trusted” goal line.

Come on, it’s not like this issue was even a tough one to decide—there was no school bus of children being held hostage if you didn’t cough up the source.  I mean, if Time magazine doesn’t back up its own reporters in the face of politically motivated investigations of petty leaks done for partisan reasons, then what example is it setting for the next, more important case? For smaller organizations standing up to big government? For courageous reporters doing journalism in other countries?

Pearlstine says that if journalists think they are above the law, if they violate a court order, it leads to anarchy.  Anarchy, though, is not the immediate consequence of disobeying the law.  Rosa Parks broke the law, and the underground railroad was illegal, too.  John Peter Zenger’s jury disobeyed the law. The publication of the Pentagon Papers violated several laws

Pearlstine uses “the law” as a justification. It’s what you might expect from an editor-in-chief who went to law school, not journalism school, and is a current member of the bar. He invokes the law because he cannot invoke the more stirring justification of the public good. He does this, because he can not invoke the contract he has to respect his own employees and their autonomy. And he cannot say that he has to abide by the promises his employees have made to their sources.

Pearlstine told the New York Times, “we are not above the law and we have to behave the way ordinary citizens do.”  It’s too bad that he didn’t decide to act the way extra-ordinary citizens do.



 
 

 

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Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

Comments

 

 

 

 

 

Did you actually send this to Pearlstine? You should. And to the NY Times. Even keeping the source of Deep Throat a secret didn't lead to anarchy. Send this letter. Send it.

 

Posted by hermitdeb
  at 6:58 am on Jul. 1, 2005

 

 

 

Right on.



Overall I like transparency and even anarchy. But you can't legislate it.

 

Posted by Wes
  at 8:56 am on Jul. 1, 2005

 

 

 

A smart (-assed) friend of mine calls Time Magazine "'People', plus Iraq". I like that.



What a total piece of shit.

 

Posted by Justin
  at 2:38 pm on Jul. 1, 2005

 

 

 

I agree with the first comment. Send it. It's so good. As well, tell Justin I enjoyed his input.

 

Posted by Mom
  at 12:53 pm on Jul. 3, 2005

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