How can Time magazine’s giving up the name of Matt Cooper’s source be seen as anything short of caving? All this time, they’ve been crowing about standing up for the principle of reporters not revealing the identity of confidential sources. In essence, they’d been saying, “This is so important, so basic to what our profession stands for, that we would rather go to jail than tell you the name.”
That lasted right up until the moment that going to jail seemed inevitable and the clang of the jail cell door became more a real-life possibility and less a sound effect they only hear on “Law and Order.”
Moreover, why would any source believe you in the future when you guarantee them anonymity? They’d have about as much trust in you as United employees do in their pension plan managers.
Now, I can see a reporter saying to a source, “Look, I promise that I won’t reveal your identity to anyone, unless there’s a cell in the Graybar Hotel with my name on it. That’s when you’re on your own, okay? After all, I have a life and a family and I like spending time with them. Not to mention that they’re finally stocking Crunch bars in the office vending machine, and I’ve got a jones for that chocolaty Nestle’s goodness.”
If that’s the policy from day one, and everyone understands your ground rules, that’s fine. But if you go around shouting “I’m protected by the First Amendment and would rather suffer the indignity of imprisonment than weaken this core tenet of journalism,” you kinda look like a wuss when it turns out your commitment was as firm as the pre-Viagra Bob Dole.
The other question not being discussed enough is why Bob Novak hasn’t been threatened with contempt of court and jail time. If he would reveal his source, these other reporters wouldn’t have to go through any of this. But if Novak refuses, he should face the same consequences Matt Cooper and Judith Miller have.