'Matt and Judy Show': Cooper and Miller on the Plame Case

By: Joe Strupp When Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine met up Tuesday night at yet another panel about their joint fight for confidential sourcing -- and to stay out of jail -- they sounded like old friends.

?How are you; how is your wife?? Miller asked Cooper minutes before the program began. ?Fine,? he answered. ?How have your trips been lately??

After the pleasantries, it was down to business, just one more day at what has become a side occupation for both reporters: defending their right to keep confidential sources protected in the face of an ongoing federal investigation

This latest event, "Threats To Press Freedom In The U.S. Today," was sponsored by the Inter American Press Association and American University's Washington College of Law, and it included another familiar face in the war, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

?Welcome to the seventh, eight, or ninth episode of the Judy, Matt, and Lucy show,? Dalglish told the group of several dozen who attended the event at Washington's J.W. Marriott Hotel, including several from the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual conference, which started there today. ?I love to see these guys, but I would rather get together for a drink somewhere than have to talk about jail and burning sources.?

Such is the life of these three, who have been thrown together in recent months as a federal prosecutor seeks the source who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, issuing subpoenas and holding both Miller and Cooper in contempt of court for failing to testify.

As they await the next hearing in their contempt convictions -- this time an appeal before the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel of which last ruled against them -- they have chosen to actively keep speaking out for their rights.

?This has taken more time of late,? Cooper said prior to Tuesday?s event. ?It is taxing.?

When the panel began, Moderator Herman Schwartz of American University noted Cooper?s sideline as a comedian. ?He?s probably not doing that much laughing these days,? he added. When Cooper took the podium, he noted, ?My lawyer has advised me not to be funny.?

Cooper then recited the history of the case. How Plame?s husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed in 2003 condemning the Bush Administration for wrongly reporting that Saddam Hussein had sought to import uranium, how columnist Robert Novak then revealed Wilson?s wife, Plame, was a CIA agent, and how investigators tracked the leak to Cooper and Miller.

?As we?ve all learned over the past decade, special prosecutors have a fishing license,? Cooper told the audience. ?A fishing license with the name of the fish on it.? His reference, of course, was to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been leading the probe into the Plame leak.

Surprisingly, Cooper then added, ?I think of him as a good man. He has had a career as a very distinguished prosecutor.?

Cooper then went on to make the same plea he has likely made for months, that people understand why confidential sources are needed, and why he should not be put in jail. ?It is not good for the culture and society to have reporters giving out sources under the threat of duress,? Cooper said. ?It will have a chilling effect.?

But he also urged caution in how the opposition to the prosecutions is mounted, reminding the audience that the issue should not be looked at as a partisan fight but rather as one both conservatives and liberals should join in on.

?This is not a left/right issue,? he said. ?There is bipartisan support for a federal shield law.? Cooper also warned journalists not to be too demanding, thus risking backlash. ?It would behoove journalists to ask for this privilege with a bit of humility,? Cooper said. ?I think we should be mindful of what we are asking for, something that is no granted to the general public."

Miller?s stump speech was a bit less careful, offering few apologies for seeking sourcing protections. ?All too often, information is classified to cover up embarrassing activities or improper activities,? she said. ?That is why I have to be willing and Matt has to be willing to go to jail. It is not about us, it is about the rights of journalists to protect sources.?

Miller also pointed out that the leaks in the Plame case are not that unusual, citing disclosure this week of the identity of Fulton T. Armstrong, an intelligence officer, who was mentioned during the Senate confirmation hearings for United Nations Ambassador nominee John Bolton.

?I mention this only to show you that classified information is revealed all the time in Washington,? Miller said. ?In various ways and with various motives.?

The Plame case appears to be moving closer to either forcing Cooper and Miller to jail or to a Supreme Court hearing. Fitzgerald said recently he had completed all interviews on the case, except for Miller and Cooper.

Of course, neither could predict how their current appeal, or an ultimate petition to the Supreme Court, would fare. ?Obviously, I hope we will win,? Miller said. ?I have no idea.?


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