Thursday, June 30, 2005

Because it is the LAW

The blogosphere is alive with indignation over Time Magazine's decision to turn over the notes of its reporter, Matthew Cooper, to a federal grand jury as ordered by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan. Why did Judge Hogan so order? Because it's the law.

The Supreme Court could not see any constitutional issue involved here, so SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal of Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Why did SCOTUS refuse to review the case? Because it's the law.

Why is Time magazine handing over the notes? Because it's the law.

Time Magazine spokesmen said:
"The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments. That Time Inc. strongly disagrees with the courts provides no immunity."

"The Supreme Court made its ruling. Once it made its ruling there was no other choice but to comply. I feel we are not above the law."
Now Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the New York Times' publisher, says:
"We are deeply disappointed by Time Inc.'s decision to deliver the subpoenaed records." He noted that one of its reporters served 40 days in jail in 1978 in a similar dispute.

Our focus is now on our own reporter, Judith Miller, and in supporting her during this difficult time."
In other words, Sulzberger intends to sacrifice his reporter by breaking the law.

I thought that rule of law was one of the foundations upon which our democracy was based. Apparently I am in the minority. Apparently persons or institutions may ignore whatever law they find to be inconvenient. I also believed that the responsibility for making law rested with the legislative branch of the government. Apparently not; it rests with whatever individual or private institution that cares to take it upon themselves to make their own law. I was taught that individuals who make their own law to fit their own needs were anarchists. I was taught that the state of individuals or private institutions making their own custom laws at whatever point satisfied their personal needs was called anarchy.

Here is what others are saying today:
Joe Gandelman: "Time Magazine is about to discard a fundamental journalist principle."

Duncan Black: "From this perspective Time taints their entire publication -- you can't rely on anyone working for that magazine to protect their sources because the publishers/editors will sell out all of their journalist's sources."

Hugh Hewitt: "When the chips are down, Time will sell you out."

John Cole: "Not that I ever would, but now I sure as hell will never work for Time."
And then he goes on to say:
"If you really believe there should be a privilege, a confidentiality, then the execs at Time should be doing everything they can to fight this, even if that includes a little lawlessness."
Well, John, I believe that murdering my wife in her sleep is "just a little lawlessness". So, according to your analysis, I have every right to do that, eh?

Look, I have the utmost admiration for all of the bloggers quoted above. With the exception of Atrios, I almost always agree with them. But not this time. It is outrageously irresponsible to suggest breaking the law. Live in Mexico for awhile and you will see what it is like living in a land where "rule of law" does not apply.

Mexico has almost all of the same laws on the books as in the U.S., and more. But in Mexico the politicians, the police, the prosecutors, the judges and just about anybody with money, political muscle, goon muscle or a large crowd waving machetes can make their own law, right on the spot. This filters all the way down to the private individual who drives the wrong way on a one way street, double parks, blocking the street, drives 50kph in a 30kph school zone, makes a left hand turn from a right hand lane or sometimes two or three lanes to the right. Sure, these things happen in the U.S., but here it is all day, everyday, everywhere.

This is what you are suggesting and it is not right.

Linked to: Joe Gandelman, Eschaton, Eschaton II, Daly Thoughts, John Cole, The Jawa Report, Orin Kerr@Volokh, Outside the Beltway, Morning Poo's Office Break, The Peking Duck, Media Slander, Radio News America, MTK, Guide To Midwestern Culture, The Next Left, Jeff Gannon, YesButNoButYes, The Disenchanted Forest - and it's only Cooper off the hook, not Judith Miller, ReidBlog, Trust but Verify, America Is a Liberal Concept,, Guerra Eterna, The Huffington Post, On the Wright, Tapscott's Copy Desk, Bill Quick, QandO, PoliPundit - I think the commenters here are right, BeldarBlog,


B-Dawg said...

I almost wish I could believe that every law, everywhere, in every instance should be followed, when nothing could be further from the truth.

If you're a Christian, you should know that your own Jesus Christ was a "lawbreaker." Rosa Parks had no moral obligation to obey a law that was wrong. Ghandi, MLK and the list goes on.

Jane Bellwether said...

I'm not quite sure why you've linked me; my commentary was minimal, and focused not at all on the legal/journalistic ethics aspect. I am hardly "indignant," though I was a journalist for a number of years.

With regard to your claim that "It's the law," and "I was taught that individuals who make their own law to fit their own needs were anarchists," there is no set law per se. Hence my interest in the point of the inquiry, which is whether interests of security were actually compromised in "outing" Plame. This needs to be established first, and hasn't been satisfactorily. If it is, then the law may be invoked to force Miller and Cooper to testify and produce any documentation they can that will identify who was responsible for the breach of security.

The law is morality as dictated by society, and most laws are moral. We're fortunate in the US to have the means to change laws that impose on our inumerated rights of life, liberty and property. To call Christ a lawbreaker and equate him with what Dr. King and Rosa Parks were working to accomplish is errant at best. To liken Cooper and Miller to Dr. King or Rosa Parks demonstrates how completely useless and hyperbolic the corollary is.

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