The managing editor of the Washington Post has finally said something that shouldn’t have needed saying: A source who makes a confidentiality agreement with one Post reporter does not thereby immunize himself from coverage of his misdeeds by other Post reporters who discover his malfeasance independently.
The convention that gentlemen of the press do not inquire into one another’s sources has to die. Observing that convention made the entire mainstream press complicit in the successful coverup of the Plame scandal through November 2004; had that coverup instead failed, we’d almost certainly have a different President today.
Now seems like a good time to do away with a custom that meets the original, rather than the distorted sense of the Shakepearean description: “more honored in the breach than in the observance.”
Footnote The expression “honored in the breach” now usually means a rule more often broken than kept. But context makes it clear that Hamlet was saying that the custom of firing a cannon every time the king took a drink was one that it would be more honorable to break than to observe.
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4, from line 5
A flourish of trumpets, and two pieces goes off.
HORATIO: What does this mean, my lord?
HAMLET: The King doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.
HORATIO: Is it a custom?
HAMLET: Ay, marry, is’t,
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honoured in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and taxed of other nations;
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition…