Tuesday, December 23, 2003

A Good Idea

Nick Confessore expresses reservations about Robert Scheer's suggestion that reporters should not have the legal right to protect their sources when those sources knowingly propagated falsehoods (and know they can get away with it because the reporters won't reveal their names).

Says Nick:

I'll admit that it would be nice to know, for instance, who was responsible for leaking Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak. But I think the solution here is not to ask the government to force journalists to reveal their sources, but for editors to have stricter rules about using leaked information.

The problem, of course, is that there is every incentive for editors to not adopt such stricter rules. The news business is so competitive that a news organization that adopts lax guidelines for sourcing is more likely to produce the "exciting" news that will increase readership/viewership. What Scheer is arguing for is a counter-weight to that incentive, a disincentive that says that if you become a conduit for official lies than you lose that 1st amendment protection. Such a rule would encourage journalists and editors to be much more circumspect in running with a leak that comes from a single, biased source.

Frankly, I think responsible journalists should welcome such a rule. Many of them probably hate the single, biased source problem as much as we do. But their livelyhood has come to depend on it to such an extent that it has become inherently corrupting. Scheer's rule would allow journalists to re-assert a certain level of journalistic ethics without having to suffer, as much, from the slings of an editor's wrath when the competition scoops them on a story.


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