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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

WoodMill: The Distaff Side

While Little Mr. Run-Amok has his return moment in the spotlight after several decades in an undistinguished chorus, his counterpart in WoodMill (so dubbed by Digby) -- Judy Miller -- takes the stage again, this time at the Open Source Media shindig in New York this afternoon.

Jay Rosen of PressThink was there and he got a chance to ask the question we all want to know the answer to: why the hell is Judy Miller running around the country demanding a federal shield law that she herself would not have been covered by?

Jay emailed the delightful details:
They were webcasting it, so they gave me a mike that didn't work, a second mike that didn't work, and during my question three other mikes that didn't work.

Even so, I got to tell her about watching the PBS Newshour (July 6, 2005) when Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune said that a federal shield law would cover more than 90 percent of the cases where confidential sources are used, but it would not have applied to her case.  Then Bill Keller, who was on the program as Judy's defender and supporter, said Chapman was correct.  Judy Miller's decision to go to jail was an act of civil disobedience, he said, because she had "run out of legal protection."

My question for Judy:  Why is it that as you travel the country speaking out for a federal shield law--before journalism groups, legal societies, on TV, and the Congress--you invariably fail to mention what your champion (then) Bill Keller understood: the shield law would not have protected you because of the weird facts in this case?  It certainly matters to how effective you can be in making a case to the nation for the shield law, I said.  Yet you leave it out.  And your remarks today were a perfect example.

Miller said it was a good question.  She said Keller was wrong.  The law would have protected her.  Her lawyer told her so.  The only exception in the bill is for matters of national security. "It's not the only thing I disagree with Bill Keller about," she said with a chuckle and toss of the head.  But even if the law didn't apply to her and Fitzgerald, Miller added, it was a good law and important to talk about. 

True, and that's exactly why the law needs a different advocate, someone who is not Judith Miller.
The law, as Jay notes, is the Senate's Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, which says you cannot be compelled to give up a source unless "disclosure of the identity of such a source is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to national security."

Says Jay:
I've asked a lot of people with knowledge of Washington, and of this bill.  I haven't found one who thinks there can be a vote on a federal shield law without an exception in it for revealing the identity of a covert agent.  A case in which that happened is not going to be a covered case; and anyone with political sense knows it.
Indeed, Professor Geoffrey Stone, former board member of the ACLU, writes:
In the Plame case, we have a relatively unusual circumstance where the source is essentially using the press in an effort to commit a federal version of a reporter-source privilege in my view or my judgment would cover the particulars of this situation.
As one of the commenters over at Sadly, No! said, "you know you don't have a leg to stand on when the ACLU tells you to shut up and take your medicine! They defended Rush Limbaugh. Jesus tapdancing christ, LIMBAUGH!

Evidently Judy still isn't taking her medicine. But boy don't we keep trying to give it to her.

(late nite graphic artistry by Billmon)