Rising like a zombie from the graveyard (morgue?) where dead columns are buried, William Safire expresses his strong wish that whoever revealed Valerie Plame’s work as an undercover CIA officer, and then lied about it to investigators and/or the grand jury, not be punished for it, at least if punishing the guilty requires inconveniencing a reporter.
Safire makes his usual quota of false and misleading assertions:
— That Valerie Plame was working openly as a CIA analyst didn’t make it any less damaging to reveal that she had previously worked under the deepest cover as a field intelligence officer.
— The Intelligence Identities Protection Act does not require a sequence of revelations to trigger its penalties if the person making the revlation works for the government.
— In any case, the conduct in question clearly violates the Espionage Act.
— A leak by a dissident official designed to reveal misconduct has nothing substantial in common with a leak orchestrated by the White House to dish one of its critics.
I don’t recall Mr. Safire being so enthusiastic about leaks when he was working for Richard Nixon in the White House or when he continued to work for Richard Nixon as a columnist for the NY Times, or later during the Iran-Contra scandal. A matter of perspective, I suppose.
The fury of Safire and other journalistic friends of the White House at the persistence of the special prosecutor (in the face of the able stalling effort by the potential defendants, helped by the media companies) suggests just how high the stakes still are. Clear evidence that BushCo betrayed a true national security secret for political gain would shatter the Administration’s pretense to be the repository of patriotism, and right now they don’t have much else left that helps hold on to centrist voters.
The Bush-Rove cabal managed to stall the invesigation past Election Day 2004, but the day of reckoning may yet come.
Update I note that Kevin Drum and I disagree on the “reporter’s shield” question. A factual point here: Kevin asserts that most leaks involve violations of law. That seems wrong to me. Grand jury leaks are almost always illegal, and for such good reason that I don’t think they deserve protection. But in the absence of an Official Secrets Act, most other leaks don’t violate the law, though they could get their sources fired. Note that a reporter’s shield allows those who wish to libel their enemies anonymously to avoid any liability as long as they can find a cooperative reporter: “Sources report that John Smith is known to beat his wife while drunk,” for example. I’m not against some protections for the newsgathering process, but I think a generalized “reporter-source privilege” goes way too far.