And Who Will Criticize Those Selfsame Critics?

Howard Kurtz has a bizarre column in Monday’s Post which he considers the journalistic ethics of reporting Plame’s name, but not the journalistic ethics of sitting on the story about the felonious behavior of top officials for two months until the lid was blown off by an official referral for criminal investigation. He notes as fact that the story “barely caused a ripple,” but offers neither a criticism nor a defense of the papers that ignored it (and ignores Newsday and the St. Petersburg Times, which didn’t). And he has not a word to say about the position in which the six reporters who were offered the leak but didn’t go with it, and their editors, and the outlets they work, for, now find themselves: reporting on a story of which they are part, and about which they know the central fact.

Kurtz seems curiously hopeful that the villains will never be unmasked, or that, if unmasked, they won’t actually go to prison:

If recent history is any guide, federal investigators are unlikely to discover who the leakers are. In 1999, a federal appeals court ruled that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and his staff did not have to face contempt proceedings for allegedly leaking damaging information about President Bill Clinton because no grand jury secrets were disclosed. The next year, a former Starr spokesman, Charles G. Bakaly III, was acquitted of making false statements about his role in providing information to the New York Times.

In 1992, Senate investigators said they could not determine who leaked confidential information to National Public Radio and Newsday about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation. In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh launched an unsuccessful $224,000 investigation of a leak to CBS of an inquiry into then-Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.).

Kurtz also edits the “two top White House officials” identified as the leakers by his colleague Mike Allen to “two top government officials.”

Is Kurtz on Bush’s payroll? And doesn’t the Post do any fact-checking, even against its own stories? If Allen’s Sunday story was wrong on that essential detail, it calls for a direct retraction and correction. If it was right, then Kurtz is just confusing his readers.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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