Sunday, July 17, 2005
Kovach on Miller: If The Source Burns You, You Owe Them Nothing
A friend of mine read one of my earlier pieces on Judy Miller and the fact that her source did release her from her confidentiality agreement. He brought to my attention this little fact from a Sid Blumenthal piece, which I found over at The Talent Show:
In the best-case scenario for Miller, Bill Kovach believes that any pledge she may have made to a source should be invalid. Kovach is the former Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, former curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and founding director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. He describes the internal policy set within the Times on sources. "By the 1980s, we decided that we had to set some limits because reporters had been misled and the credibility of the news reports had been damaged by misleading sources. When I was chief of the bureau in Washington, we laid down a rule to the reporters that when they wanted to establish anonymity they had to lay out ground rules that if anything the source said was damaging, false or damaged the credibility of the newspaper we would identify them." In the Plame matter, Kovach sees no obligation of the reporters to false sources. "If a man damages your credibility, why not lay the blame where it belongs? If Plame were an operative, she wouldn't have the authority to send someone. Whoever was leaking that information to Novak, Cooper or Judy Miller was doing it with malice aforethought, trying to set up a deceptive circumstance. That would invalidate any promise of confidentiality. You wouldn't protect a source for telling lies or using you to mislead your audience. That changes everything. Any reporter that puts themselves or a news organization in that position is making a big mistake."I wondered if Kovach had said something similar during Timesman Jeff Gerth's promoting of the Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee non-scandals, but Google turned up nothing. Still, better late than never, I suppose.
She might be protecting herself. More likely, she's protecting the Administration.
As for Kovach, he was part of the problem and is apparently still evading responsibility:
"It's hard to reconcile those two images — of a paper that wins seven Pulitzers in one year and then a paper that is eating itself a year later," said Bill Kovach, a former Washington editor of The Times who first promoted Mr. Raines from reporter to editor.
"The only way I can account for it is that it has to be a classic definition of a tragic circumstance: These are talented people and people who have a lot to offer and people of great accomplishments who have stumbled over a plan of their own making."
You know, that post turtle just got in the Jag and turned the key and jumped on the floor and goosed the pedal and that's why the car ran over my wife, repeatedly, Officer.
And the NYT's not the only -- or even the worst -- offender. One of the most amusing things about the Stephen Glass scandal at The New Republic was that he was depicted as someone who went bad despite the influence of his mentor, Michael Kelly, when a close reading of the careers of both men shows that Glass was exactly what Kelly wanted, except that he got sloppy in his choice of targets. Glass branched out from lying about people that GOP-dominated Official Washington hated -- people like Clinton friend and advisor Vernon Jordan -- to lying about hackers, which caused his stories to be examined by people outside of the Beltway media clique.
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