Time caves on Plame notes; Bush gang and First Amendment lose big

No White House since Richard Nixon's has loathed the press as avidly as the Bush crew does. So it was a bit of dreary irony yesterday when Time magazine announced it would turn over to the government a staff reporter's notes on confidential sources: In this matter, the administration is nearly as big a loser as reporters all round the US. 

The case in question is that of who disclosed the identity of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame to the great GOP hack Bob Novak and other reporters. Plame is married to a former diplomat named Joseph Wilson, who wrote a July 2003 New York Times op-ed that outed White House lies about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain milled uranium--yellowcake--from Niger. A week or so after that column ran, Novak quoted the disclosure of "two senior administration officials" that Wilson's wife was a spy.

Here's the rub: Blowing a US spy's cover is a federal crime. A federal grand jury has been pursuing the case since last year, and in the course of its investigation it subpoenaed the records of the NYT's Judith Miller and Time's Matthew Cooper. After the Supreme Court  refused last Monday to hear Miller and Cooper's appeals in the case, both now face 18-month jail sentences for contempt of court. Later in the week, Time editor Norman Pearlstine said he would give up the notes.

So now it begins to look possible that key aides to Dick Cheney and/or Karl Rove will actually face criminal charges--national security-related criminal charges, no less--in the foreseeable future. As for the press, the nut paragraph from Friday's NYT summed it up pretty well:

"The announcement by a major news organization that it would disclose the identities of its confidential sources in response to a subpoena appears to be without precedent in living memory and suggests a turning point in the relationship between the press and the government." (Read the rest.)

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