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'New York Times' Reporter Jailed for Contempt


A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times was sent to jail yesterday after she refused to identify a confidential source. Judith Miller has been found in contempt of court. Time magazine's Matthew Cooper expected to be jailed, too, but his source let him off the hook. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.


Times' executive editor Bill Keller said Miller's willingness to be incarcerated to protect her source was an act of civil disobedience.

Mr. BILL KELLER (The New York Times): Look, we're standing on a principle here. Judy is standing on a principle, and my job as her editor is to stand behind her.

FOLKENFLIK: Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating the disclosure of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists two summers ago. The knowing revelation of an undercover intelligence agent by a government official could be a crime. Deborah Daniels served as assistant US attorney general under President Bush until last winter. She says the prosecutor should only seek to get information from reporters in rare cases, but that this is one of them.

Ms. DEBORAH DANIELS (Former Assistant US Attorney General): No matter what balancing test you use, the government has met it. The evidence was essential to the investigation. It was unavailable from any other source, and it was necessary to remedy a serious breach of the public trust.

FOLKENFLIK: Unless Miller relents, her time in jail near Washington will last until Fitzgerald's grand jury expires in October. Time's Matthew Cooper, however, walked free. Last week, Time Inc.'s editor in chief Norman Pearlstine decided to turn over Cooper's notes and e-mails about the case despite Cooper's objections. Pearlstine said the media is not above the law. The documents revealed the name of Cooper's source and the substance of his reporting to the special prosecutor. Steve Lovelady is the managing editor of CJR Daily, an online journalism review affiliated with the Columbia University. He worked with Pearlstine at both the Wall Street Journal and Time. And Lovelady says that Pearlstine's decision compromises reporters at any Time publication.

Mr. STEVE LOVELADY (CJR Daily): Any of our sources seeking anonymity is not going to hereafter trust a reporter from Time or Fortune or Sports Illustrated; in that sense, that Pearlstine has hung his own staff out to dry.

FOLKENFLIK: Cooper looked grim on the courthouse steps yesterday. He said he would have continued to withhold the source's identity, as he had for two years. And he told his six-year-old son he would not see him for a long time as he hugged him goodbye. But Cooper received an unexpected call a few hours before the hearing.

Mr. MATTHEW COOPER (Time Magazine): This morning in what can only be described as a stunning set of developments, that source agreed to give me a specific, personal and unambiguous waiver to speak before the grand jury.

FOLKENFLIK: So he's now cooperating with Fitzgerald's inquiry. Miller never wrote about Plame, but Cooper did in an article describing the Bush administration's apparent strategy to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He was a critic of President Bush. After an outcry, the White House required administration officials to sign waivers releasing reporters from promises of confidentiality. But the two reporters say such agreements are not voluntary and don't release them from their promises. Bill Keller of The Times says the press needs to be able to protect its sources to perform its watchdog duties.

Mr. KELLER: The notion that the press serves a particularly useful role in this society is not something that we cooked up. It's something that kind of came with the country.

FOLKENFLIK: Keller noted that 49 states have some protection of journalist sources through legislation or judicial precedent. But Deborah Daniels, the former assistant attorney general, says the reporters were wrong to claim a right under the federal system to protect their sources.

Ms. DANIELS: The court also found there is no privilege, so the waiver issue is kind of moot.

FOLKENFLIK: Judge Thomas Hogan pointedly told Miller and her lawyers that reporters cannot decide which legal edicts and laws to observe. If they do, he said, quote, "We have a very slippery slope and can descend into anarchy." In court papers, prosecutor Fitzgerald said he was focusing his investigation on a single source who's already waived confidentiality. Karl Rove, the influential deputy White House chief of staff, and Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, are the only two administration officials known to have signed such waivers. And Cooper has previously testified about Libby with his permission. Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, says Cooper did call Rove at the time of the Plame revelation back in 2003. But Luskin says Rove didn't disclose Plame's identity to anyone and that other White House officials also signed waivers. Fitzgerald did not indicate yesterday whether any indictments would be forthcoming. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.