A Times editorial on the CIA leak case says no reporter can choose the circumstances for upholding a principle."It doesn't matter whether we think a source is a good person or has good motivations. A reporter promises confidentiality, and the paper backs up the journalist because otherwise the public will not learn what it needs to know. ...Reporters cannot apply ideology when protecting their sources, any more than civil liberties lawyers can defend the First Amendment rights of only the people they agree with."
Nice theory--but the fact is that reporters do make moral choices based on ideology. In the journalistic pantheon of noble gods there's Deep Throat. From a reporter's perspective, he was critical to getting the Watergate story. Yet the inconsistencies were palpable in the way reporters handled his story and those in the Nixon administration. The narrative for Haldeman et al was about the abuse of power and law breaking. The narrative for Deep Throat was heroic. Yet consider that both Haldeman and Deep Throat were guilty of the abuse of power. Haldeman abused power to keep Nixon in office--and to keep his enemies at bay. Deep Throat abused power to nail Nixon. What abuse of power was Deep Throat guilty of? Revealing grand jury testimony, secrets from FBI files, and more. As Woodward says in his new book, The Secret Man, Mark Felt--AKA Deep Throat--was considered guilty by a top Justice Department attorney of violating his oath by revealing secrets.
Haldeman was a snake. Felt is a hero.
Morality, in short, counts. Reporters aren't neutral. If they were, Woodward would have had to blow the whistle on Mark Felt's abuse of power.
comments powered by Disqus
Jim Williams - 8/10/2005
I would agree more readily with the conclusion that Felt was a hero if the disclosures didn't help him to get even with those who passed him over for the FBI's top slot. I agree about Haldeman.
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- How Does It Feel To Have One’s Work as a Historian Cited by the Supreme Court? Cool. Very Cool. Thank You Very Much.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing