New York Times reporter Judith Miller was sentenced to jail Wednesday after refusing to testify about her sources in the ongoing investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.
Quoting a Reuters report, The Times reported on its website that Ms. Miller told the court: ”If journalists cannot be trusted to keep confidences, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press.”
Times executive editor Bill Keller called the sentencing “a chilling conclusion to an utterly confounding case.” He said that Miller does not intend to put herself above the law, but is following an “individual conscience that has been part of this country’s tradition since its founding.”
In a prepared statement, Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger said: “There are times when the greater good of our democracy demands an act of conscience. Judy has chosen such an act in honoring her promise of confidentiality to her sources.”
Contempt charges against Time‘s Matthew Cooper were dropped after he agreed to testify about his sources.
The AP reported:
Cooper took the podium in the court and told the judge, “Last night I hugged my son good-bye and told him it might be a long time before I see him again.”
“I went to bed ready to accept the sanctions” for not testifying, Cooper said. But he told the judge that not long before his early afternoon appearance, he had received “in somewhat dramatic fashion” a direct personal communication from his source freeing him from his commitment to keep the source’s identity secret.
Poynter’s Bob Steele said this about the jailing of Miller: “I admire her fight on principle. I admire the spirit of journalistic independence. The result may be an additional traction point for the federal shield law cause. That said, this case is far from the ideal case for choosing jail time. From the missing pieces of the puzzle involving Robert Novak to the possibility that some of the confidential sources broke the law to the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to address the constitutional issues, this case is rife with problems in terms of fighting on principle.”
Steele said ”Cooper’s decision seems a logical one given the release of the confidentiality promise given to him by the source. I’m sure that Cooper was sincere in his willingness to fight the good fight on principle and even go to jail. But this development is one that depressurizes the dilemma for Cooper, at least. This was a case that journalists fought nobly but it wasn’t the ideal case to argue the principle. In this case, once the journalists had lost their quest for Supreme Court review, the fight on principle lost some of its steam. Time editor Norman Pearlstine’s argument that no one is above the law, even journalists, is compelling. Yes, the journalists could choose jail and an act of civil disobedience, but I’m not sure this is the case you would choose for civil disobedience.”
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
How can I learn more about my state’s shield laws?
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides shield law information by state.
What is the history of the Cooper/Miller case?
Here is a summary.