Tuesday, November 01, 2005


A huge portion of the Traitorgate scandal involves reporters and their sources in the White House. Judith Miller of The New York Times took a stand on behalf of all journalists by serving more than 80 days for refusing to name her secret source. Sure, she ended up telling everything anyway, but that stretch in the pokey will make for one helluva book.

But when is it all right for reporters to out their sources? Death seems a reliable benchmark; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein set that standard for Deep Throat. Had he not been outed by his daughter, Mark Felt would still be a mystery man.

Death, then. Once a source kicks the bucket a reporter should be able to disclose previous conversations that had been considered "off the record" or on background. Seems fair to everyone but the source, and hey, he's dead.

Newsweek, however, apparently sets a lower benchmark for outing its sources. The current issue includes Evan Thomas' piece on Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and it's there that Newsweek doled out a juicy morsel from Off The Record Land:
At a 2003 Christmas party at the home of Vanity Fair journalist Christopher Hitchens, Libby spent more than a half hour arguing with a NEWSWEEK reporter that hijacker Muhammad Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before 9/11. By then, the claim had been publicly debunked by both the FBI and the CIA. During the conversation with the reporter, Libby repeatedly questioned the CIA's competence and objectivity. When he was finished, he suggested, in a flattering way, that the reporter think about joining the CIA, presumably on the theory that the agency needed A Few Good Men.
Let's see ... Christmas party at Hitchens' joint, reporters rubbing elbows with sources, lots of drinks (it is Hitchens' party, after all) ... we're willing to go out on a limb and guess this little shindig was off the record. Kinda like Vegas, but with better conversation.

Did Lewis give a waiver so Newsweek could report on an anecdote from a two-year-old party? Doubt it. Guess the high-minded principle of protecting a source no longer applies when the source is looking at 30 years in prison.

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