I had an interesting weekend. Maybe you did, too. It’s always a mixed bag, you know? Some Friday nights are drunken and exhilarating; other Friday nights are empty and reserved. And then, of course, there are those Friday nights when random people believe you accidentally forced the resignation of the head of the CIA.
We’ve all been there.
Chuck Klosterman, Grantland. I Lived a CIA Conspiracy Theory.
Background: When news broke about CIA Director David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine posted to Twitter about a New York Times Magazine Ethicist letter from July that had somewhat similar details to the Petraeus-Broadwell relationship. Soon, the Internet wanted to know: did Broadwell’s husband write that letter?
Klosterman, who writes the Ethicist column, talks about what it was like to suddenly be caught in the middle of Internet gossip and rumor.
Double Bonus: Jon Stewart once had Broadwell on his show. Now he explains why he’s the “worst journalist in the world.”
This Court should not depart from well-established precedent by being the first court of appeals ever to deny the existence of a reporter’s privilege with respect to confidential source information in the criminal trial context…. Confidentiality is essential for journalists to sustain their relationships with sources and to obtain sensitive information from them. Without it, the press cannot effectively serve the public by keeping it informed.
Attorney’s for Jeffrey Sterling, the former CIA officer who is accused of leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen, to the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Secrecy News, Reporter’s Privilege at Issue in Sterling Leak Case.
Prosecutors in the case want to compel New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against Sterling in order to reveal that Sterling passed along information that the CIA has a program in place to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Reporter’s Privilege is a law or statute in 31 states. Known as Shield laws, they protect journalists from having to testify, reveal or otherwise make known their sources, or how, where and from whom they received confidential information.
That’s great that our Internet scouring cropped up something useful for you. Finding bits others can run with is what we’re trying to do.
I take very seriously my obligations as a journalist when reporting about matters that may be classified or may implicate national security concerns. I do not always publish all information that I have, even if it is newsworthy and true. If I believe that the publication of the information would cause real harm to our national security, I will not publish a piece. I have found, however, that all too frequently, the government claims that publication of certain information will harm national security, when in reality, the government’s real concern is about covering up its own wrongdoing or avoiding embarrassment…
…Any testimony I were to provide to the Government would compromise to a significant degree my ability to continue reporting as well as the ability of other journalists to do so. This is particularly true in my current line of work covering stories relating to national security, intelligence and terrorism. If I aided the Government in its effort to prosecute my confidential source(s) for providing information to me under terms of confidentiality, I would inevitably be compromising my own ability to gather news in the future. I also believe that I would be impeding all other reporters’ ability to gather and report the news in the future.
Background, Part I: In January, former US Special Forces officer Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore, and claims he did so because they were attacking him. After the shooting, Americans in Land Rovers came to extract Davis from the situation. En route, they ran over and killed a motorcyclist. Later, the wife of one of those killed committed suicide.
Subsequently, Davis was arrested and charged with murder but the US government claimed he worked for the US Embassy and has diplomatic immunity.
Background, Part II: US media outlets reported the US government’s story, repeated claims that Davis served in some sort of diplomatic capacity, and while admitting the issue was cloudy, basically made the case that he could and should be freed.
Until, that is, the Guardian reported:
The American who shot dead two men in Lahore, triggering a diplomatic crisis between Pakistan and the US, is a CIA agent who was on assignment at the time.
To which the New York Times concurred, while adding:
The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A.. On Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication, though George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined any further comment.
Issue, Part I: Salon’s Glenn Greenwald claims that not only did the Times withhold information, but it also included information in their reporting that they knew to be false:
It’s one thing for a newspaper to withhold information because they believe its disclosure would endanger lives. But here, the U.S. Government has spent weeks making public statements that were misleading in the extreme — Obama’s calling Davis “our diplomat in Pakistan” — while the NYT deliberately concealed facts undermining those government claims because government officials told them to do so. That’s called being an active enabler of government propaganda.
Issue, Part II: So should news organizations have revealed that Davis was CIA?
The Guardian Readers’ Editor Chris Elliot walks us through his news room’s decision to expose the connection, saying that newspapers are faced with such dilemmas all the time. They apply ethical tests, he writes, and live with the consequences.
Quoting David Katz, the paper’s deputy editor:
We came to the view that his CIA-ness was a critical part of the story, bound to be a factor in his trial or in attempts to have him released. The reasons we were given for not naming him were, firstly, that it may complicate his release – that is not our job. If he was held hostage other factors would kick in but he is in the judicial process. The other reason given by the CIA was that he would come to harm in prison.
The New York Times’ Public Editor Arthur Brisbane defends the newspaper’s actions, saying that news organizations don’t have standing to make life and death decisions.
As profoundly unpalatable as it is, I think the Times did the only thing it could do. Agreeing to the State Department’s request was a decision bound to bring down an avalanche of criticism and, even worse, impose serious constraints on The Times’s journalism. The alternative, though, was to take the risk that reporting the C.I.A. connection would, as warned, lead to Mr. Davis’s death.
In military affairs, there is a calculus that balances the loss of life against the gain of an objective. In journalism, though, there is no equivalent. Editors don’t have the standing to make a judgment that a story — any story — is worth a life. I find it hard to second-guess the editors’ assessment…
…It was a brutally hard call that, for some, damaged The Times’s standing. But to have handled it otherwise would have been simply reckless. I’d call this a no-win situation, one that reflects the limits of responsible journalism in the theater of secret war.
To report or not to report: Truthiness is a difficult gig.