there are multiple Chalibis and Roves. That is the last sentence in an op ed piece in today's Washington Post entitled Sources of Trouble
by the redoubtable David Broder. I realize that many reading this have their difficulties with Broder. As one who was an active participant in the Dean campaign, I can assure you I understand such feelings.
Broder is, nevertheless, one of the preeminent political writers in this country. Thus when he writes on an issue of importance we should pay attention. And when -- as in this case -- his words serve to advance positions about which we may care, we should surely take the time to read what he has to say.
Broder begins his column by recognizing that many in journalism do not seem to understand why the public has not reacted as have they to the jailing of Judy Miller. He then writes
But we should be smart enough to be able to figure out why the anger and alarm this development has caused in our ranks are apparently not shared by those outside the news business.
He notes the relationship of mutual confidence between reporters and their confidential sources, then adds
something important with you that I know -- namely, the identity of the person who is my source."
His next brief paragraph is quite important, especially the words I have placed in bold:
The rationale for this deliberate withholding of information is, ideally, that the substance of what the source has provided is so valuable to the public that it justifies the damage done each time the public is asked to accept the "gift" without knowing its origins.
Each time a confidential source is used, according to Broder, there is a concomitant damage to the public dialog that must be justified by the value of the information which could be communicated in no other way.
Broder notes that the absolute commitment of confidentiality to source can be complicated and difficult, as the current case shows. He recapitulates the background, and is in part quite blunt, noting of the White House and of Novak:
By exposing his wife's supposed role in sending Wilson on that mission, the White House was trying to link his finding to a well-publicized bureaucratic war in which elements of the CIA were doing all they could to undercut the case for going to war with Iraq.
Novak, who has a well-earned reputation for carrying water for his favorite conservatives, has not been prosecuted for publishing Plame's name and has refused to discuss his role in the case or his dealings, if any, with the grand jury investigating the leak.
He goes on to talk about Fitzgerald's tactics, and how other journalists have sought to lionize Judith Miller as a First Amendment heroine. But then he puts her actions in a broader context:
But no one, not even Judy Miller, is wholly praiseworthy. She is the same reporter who, in a series of influential articles before the war, vividly portrayed the threat that Saddam Hussein's weapons supposedly posed. Only afterward was it learned that many of her "scoops" came from Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile who had dreams of supplanting Saddam Hussein as Iraq's new ruler -- with the support of a conquering American army.
Her use of an unnamed source in that case was a distinct disservice to the country; had we known his name and motivation, much less credibility would have been attached to her reports.
A distinct disservice to the country. This is a major criticism from a major journalist. It forces the reader to recognize the possibility, even if unstated, that Miller's current actions may represent a similar disservice.
Border reminds us that thanks to Cooper, we know that Rove, whom we were assured had nothing to do with it, was involved, and yet still is on the job. His closing words, including what I used for the topic line, now appear in their proper context:
The only lesson I can draw is that reporters ought to be damned careful about accepting unattributed information. For every "Deep Throat," there are multiple Chalabis and Roves.
I do not know what influence this column will ultimately have. One can interpolate beyond what Broder has written and believe that he thinks Miller and the Times are wrong in their absolutist position against any cooperation with Fitzgerald, especially in light of Libby's release. He clearly is troubled by Miller's previous reliance upon unattributed sources. I think this article may sway some in the journalistic community to put some distance between themselves and the the position of Miller and the Times. But I don't know.
What do you, the readers, think?