Tags: One | Reporter's | Opinion | Selective | Reporting

One Reporter's Opinion - Selective Reporting

Friday, 17 September 2004 12:00 AM

So what do we make of Rather's decision to protect the source who gave them the questionable memos?

The CBS anchor isn't the only newsman who is in trouble these days for keeping a source confidential.

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who had previously given a deposition after being held in contempt and threatened with jail time when he refused to answer questions in the Joseph Wilson case - has again been subpoenaed.

The name of Wilson's CIA agent wife, Valerie Plame, was disclosed in a column by Robert Novak. And the investigation has sparked a battle over the extent to which the first amendment protects reporters from demands that they reveal the identity of sources to whom they have promised confidentiality.

Bush critics suspect a White House cover-up.

The administration had dispatched Wilson to Niger to determine whether Iraq had sought nuclear material from the African nation. Wilson reported back to the CIA that he found no evidence of any nuclear transaction.

His assessment reportedly gained the disfavor of Bush advisor Karl Rove. Someone in the administration - Wilson suggested it was Rove - leaked Plame's name to Novak, jeopardizing her position at the CIA, not to mention her personal safety.

Rove denied that he'd leaked the information to Novak and said he didn't even know the woman's name. But what about Novak? He's invoked the principle of confidentiality that protects journalists from revealing their sources.

However, on his CNN show over the weekend, Novak argued that Dan Rather should reveal his source of information concerning Bush's service in the National Guard.

A fellow panel member said that if Rather revealed his source, Robert Novak should do the same.

Personal reference: I was covering the Charles Manson case in Los Angeles, the gruesome murder of Actress Sharon Tate and her associates.

Covering the story for television, I worked side-by-side with a top-flight reporter, Bill Farr, who was covering the story for the Los Angeles Times.

The year was 1972, and at one point in the court proceedings, the presiding judge challenged Farr to reveal a source of material relevant to the case. Farr refused.

There ensued a battle between the judge and the reporter. Farr stuck to his refusal to reveal his confidential news source or a key figure involved.

The judge was furious and sentenced Farr to 46 days in county jail. Rather than reveal his confidential news source, Farr served the 46 days.

But that was back when reporters were willing to pay the price of protecting the first amendment. These days it's a different story.

Isn't it sheer hypocrisy on the part of reporters and their selective revelation of news sources and information? For example, the controversy over military service by Bush and Kerry 30 years ago is hardly applicable to the problems we face today.

The questions are obvious - who volunteered service, who attempted to avoid service, who ended up serving. And the press continues to be selective in reporting the story.

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So what do we make of Rather's decision to protect the source who gave them the questionable memos? The CBS anchor isn't the only newsman who is in trouble these days for keeping a source confidential. Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who had previously given a...
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2004-00-17
Friday, 17 September 2004 12:00 AM
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