web counter Media Lies: They write 'em, I rip 'em

Saturday, November 20, 2004

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They write 'em, I rip 'em

The Times has done it again. They've written an editorial that begs for a fisking.

Entitled "Contempt for a Free Press", it should have been titled "Contempt for Logic".
Jim Taricani, a television reporter in Providence, R.I., fell victim to a widening judicial assault on freedom of the press this week.
Save us the hyperbole! The military and the police do assaults. The judiciary upholds the law.
Mr. Taricani was convicted of criminal contempt of court on Thursday for refusing to reveal who gave him an F.B.I. videotape documenting bribery and corruption in city government. He will most likely be sentenced to as much as six months in jail by a peevish federal court judge. Neither Mr. Taricani nor his station, the local NBC affiliate, did anything illegal broadcasting the tape in 2001.
Ummm, apparently the court disagrees with you. In our country, you can say anything you like about a court's decision, but it still has the force of law. Get used to it. The man was convicted. That's prima facie evidence that he committed a crime.
It showed the mayor's top aide taking an envelope stuffed with cash from a businessman who was acting as an informant for the F.B.I. Airing the tape had no detrimental effect on the aide's trial. He was convicted and is now in jail, as is the former mayor.
Keep this in mind. It will be important later.
What irks the judge is that someone leaked the tape against a court order that it be kept under wraps.
Guess what? Violating a court order is illegal.
The judge appointed a special prosecutor to find the source of the leak, but that inquiry turned up nothing beyond denials from the most likely suspects. The judge then started fining Mr. Taricani $1,000 for each additional day he refused to name his source, but that, too, failed. So now the judge has found Mr. Taricani guilty of criminal contempt.
That would be because Mr. Taricani is a material witness to the commission of a crime and is refusing to reveal the criminal. This behavior would put a lawyer in jail as well. Despite their canon of ethics and their duty to their client, lawyers cannot withold evidence of a crime. Neither can reporters. That is illegal.
That looks more like vindictive punishment than a continuing effort to find the leak.
I suppose it does, if you refuse to look at it objectively!
The judge cast his actions as necessary to uphold the rule of law and judicial authority, lest others feel emboldened to violate court orders.
Why do you think he cast them that way? Has it ever occurred to you that he might actually be right?
But there is a more important value at stake here - the ability of reporters to get information by promising confidentiality to skittish sources.
So "the ability of reporters to get information" is more important than upholding the law? I don't think so!
In this case, the leak caused no harm to the legal system,
So breaking the law causes "no harm to the legal system"? I'll be watching to see if you make this same argument when you think someone in the Bush administration has broken the law. (Think Valerie Plame.) It's astounding how you think that the press can play fast and loose with the law but no one else is allowed to.
but imprisonment of Mr. Taricani could have a chilling effect on journalism's ability to expose corruption.
How would that be exactly? You admitted earlier that "Airing the tape had no detrimental effect on the aide's trial. He was convicted and is now in jail, as is the former mayor." Since this is true, it must also be true that airing the tape was not exposing corruption. Therefore, asking the reporter to reveal his source would not have a "chilling effect" on reporters' ability to expose corruption, because the court was already doing that.

What it would have a chilling effect on is people violating court orders and leaking protected information to the press. That might irritate you, but it doesn't impact your ability to uncover corruption.

Unless you think it's the job of the courts to do the hard detective work on your behalf so you can slop up any titillating details for the evening news.