Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Bob Novak and the Get Out of Jail Free Card?

There continues to be an awful lot of discussion of why, if the Times Judith Miller, who never wrote about Valerie Plame's identity, and Time's Matthew Cooper, who didn't break the story, both face 18 months in prison, Bob Novak, who broke the whole story has never been reported even to have appeared within a mile of the Plame leak grand jury.

The PG's Tony Norman expresses some of the confusion many of us feel, and expresses well the exasperation of most everyone who has followed this story, especially those of us with serious First Amendment concerns about the pending imprisonment of Miller and Cooper to begin with.

Congressional investigations were threatened and a grand jury convened. In the perverse logic of the nation's capital, subpoenas were sent to reporters who merely sat on the information Novak published. While Miller and Cooper face serious jail time for upholding the principle of source confidentiality, Novak continues perfecting his million-dollar scowl on "Crossfire."

It's worth emphasizing that Novak may well have been called to testify, may have appeared, and may have "sung like a canary," in the words of Slate "Explainer" Daniel Engber. As Engber does a good job explaining, grand juries historically have been confidential, and their secrets are often better protected than other political secrets. This is important, and there's nothing wrong with it.

But as far as I'm concerned, where Miller and Cooper go so should go Novak, unless he has, indeed, disclosed the name of the administration official who leaked the story, in which case perhaps Novak deserves a deal provided the official is removed from his office and given the same prison term I would have gotten if I'd disclosed the identity of a clandestine operative overseas in violation of federal law.

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