An NYT reporter and a Time magazine reporter are staring jail in the face after a U.S. appellate court rules they must identify the sources who helped them identify a covert CIA agent.
… Citing a 1972 decision of the United States Supreme Court, the panel held that the reporters, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, have no First Amendment protection from grand jury subpoenas seeking the names of their sources. It can be a crime for government officials to divulge the identities of covert agents.
The 1972 decision, Branzburg v. Hayes, considered four consolidated grand jury cases, including one in which a reporter witnessed illegal drugs being made. In today's opinion, the panel said the Supreme Court's “transparent and forceful” reasoning applied to the two reporters before the appeals court.
“In language as relevant to the alleged illegal disclosure of the identity of covert agents as it was to the alleged illegal processing of hashish,” Judge David B. Sentelle wrote for the panel, “the court stated that it could not 'seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects the newsman's agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof, on the theory that it is better to write about a crime than to do something about it.' ” …
The case has its roots in an opinion article published in The Times on July 6, 2003. In it, a former diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, criticized a statement made by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address. Mr. Wilson based his criticism on a trip he had taken to Africa for the C.I.A. the previous year.
Eight days after Mr. Wilson's article was published, Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist, reported that “two senior administration officials” had told him that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was “an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.”
Mr. Wilson has said the disclosure of his wife's affiliation with the Central Intelligence Agency was retaliation for his criticism. Others have said that the disclosure put his criticism in context by suggesting that Mr. Wilson's trip was not a serious one but rather a nepotistic boondoggle.
It is not known whether Mr. Novak has received a subpoena or, if he did, how he responded. His lawyer, James Hamilton, declined to comment on today's decision.
Mr. Cooper and two other Time reporters published an article on the magazine's Web site three days after Mr. Novak's column. It questioned the administration's motives for disclosing Ms. Plame's identity and said that the magazine had received similar information.
Ms. Miller has not written on the Plame matter, though she conducted interviews in contemplation of a possible article.