July 13, 2005

A confusing post on Judith Miller

I've decided I cannot agree with Drew. Not because I think Judith Miller was right to refuse to reveal her source, but because I can't decide whether she was right or not.

The problem is that the principle Miller is standing by here is the same principle that protects whistleblowers, albeit perversely twisted here to support, not undermine, those in power. And whistleblowing is the reason you have a free press: so information can be brought to light without fear of retribution from those in power.

Drew says that "It is ludicrous to suggest that criminal conversations are or should be protected by the long-standing rule against a journalist betraying a source." My training is in philosophy, not law, but isn't it a crime, on some level, to break a non-disclosure agreement and tell reporters that the cigarette company you work for does, in fact, know their product causes cancer?

On the other hand, it seems like a difference can be found here: the minor crime of violating the non-disclosure agreement is overriden by the greater crime of knowingly manufacturing and marketing a dangerous product, while Judith Miller was not being informed of any sort of wrongdoing when she was told Valerie Plame (sp) was a CIA agent. Is this the sort of 'crime calculus' our legal system uses, though?


Drew said...

A crime to break a non-disclosure agreement... hmm, possibly. I hope not. I mean, the example you gave is a non-disclosure agreement between a corporation and an employee. That's a private contracting matter, and in the normal course of events, violating a contract is not a crime.

The question of whether Miller was "right" or "wrong" is, admittedly, a more complicated question than the one I presented. But the question of whether she has any legal right to ignore the subpoena against her is not. She doesn't have a leg to stand on.

You could argue that she's right in some higher, moral sense. That's defensible. She herself characterizes her actions as "civil disobediance". But civil disobediants go to jail. That's the whole point. So either way, she belongs in jail.

Noumena said...

Like I say, I'm a philosopher, not a lawyer, so I care more about what's right than what's ethical or legal.