The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin on the Post's website a few hours back rained on the parade for those who romanticize journalists who take jail time over divulging sources, saying to any and all of his journalistic colleagues reading him:
There is nothing intrinsically noble about keeping your sources' secrets. Your job, in fact, is to expose them. And if a very senior government official, after telling you something in confidence, then tells you that you don't have to keep it secret anymore, the proper response is "Hooray, now I can tell the world" -- not "Sorry, that's not good enough for me, I need that in triplicate." And if you're going to go to jail invoking important, time-honored journalistic principles, make sure those principles really apply.
Froomkin was referring to New York Times correspondent Judith Miller, released yesterday from jail after agreeing to name her source in the Valerie Plame leak. Apparently, Ms. Miller was free all this time to divulge that Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice President's chief-of-staff, was her source. Froomkin mentions the theory that Miller was trying to ingratiate herself with liberal critics of the Bush administration in the media.
Can it be? That after all that, New York Times reporter Judith Miller sat in jail for 12 weeks to protect the confidentiality of a very senior White House aide -- even though the aide repeatedly made it clear he didn't want protecting?
So what was Miller doing in jail? Was it all just a misunderstanding? The most charitable explanation for Miller is that she somehow concluded that Libby wanted her to keep quiet, even while he was publicly -- and privately -- saying otherwise. The least charitable explanation is that going to jail was Miller's way of transforming herself from a journalistic outcast (based on her gullible pre-war reporting) into a much-celebrated hero of press freedom.
Greg Mitchell at Editor and Publisher wrote a bullet point analysis entitled: "Questions Swirl Around Latest Twist in Judith Miller Saga."