Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Runaway Liar

William Safliar has another column which bears no relationship to reality. After providing a fantasy version of the facts of the Plame case -- the criminal leaker was a courageous whistleblower ferreting out nepotism in intelligence community -- Safire goes on to bear false witness against the Plame prosecutor.

After questioning possible government sources right up to the president, the frustrated Fitzgerald went after the press with a vengeance and a blunderbuss. He demanded testimony in breach of confidentiality from Time magazine's Matthew Cooper, The Washington Post's Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler, NBC's Tim Russert, and presumably Novak, who has been ethically tight-lipped.

Most of the reporters and their corporate counsel, unfortunately, have fallen for the prosecutor's trick. (I'd hate to be counseled by a weak-kneed Time Inc. lawyer.) Fitzgerald has coerced potential government sources into signing waivers of confidentiality, backed up by dutiful "nothing to hide" statements. He tells the journalists: See? You have been released from your pledge - now you have no reason not to tell us who talked to you on deep background.

A trick? What trick? Fitzgerald coerced people to sign waivers. Well, which is it? Did he fool them into is signing the waivers, or did he coerce them?

Actually, neither. Fitzgerald can't force anyone to waive his or her rights, and Safliar presents no evidence that he actually did.

But that is no legitimate "release" at all. Such a source-burning subterfuge sneaks around the First Amendment, which ensures free speech. The potential source has been told: Sign here or get fired or, worse, become more suspect for not signing and get prosecuted. That pressure undermines the Fifth Amendment, which is against self-incrimination.

So Fitzgerald threatened to fire Scooter Pie Libby, Fucking Dick Cheney and the rest of the Administration? Amazing. I didn't realize that employees of the executive branch served at the pleasure of a U.S. Attorney. I didn't realize it ... because I'm sane. The only one who could threaten firing would be Bush. But don't expect Safliar to say that.

And Safliar surely knows that a prosecutor can't suggest to a jury that a defendant's assertion of the Fifth Amendment privilege is evidence of guilt, let alone prosecute based solely on a witness's assertion of a privilege.

Feeling his oats, confident of his power to threaten reporters with jail for contempt, Fitzgerald is harassing The Times's intrepid Judith Miller with a subpoena, reportedly in an unrelated case about her investigation of an Islamic charity aiding terrorists. Unlike most of the other reporters, this principled journalist is risking her freedom and defending us all by fighting the subversive subpoena. The Times has retained Floyd Abrams, no pushover, to argue for her right to protect her sources.

Just as Safliar surely knows that Miller has no constitutional right to disobey a subpeona. Maybe Bill's fantasizing about Miller feeling his oats.

I have not discussed these cases with anybody mentioned herein, many of whom I know well, and am not clearing this with any lawyers. Editorialists everywhere fretting about the appearance of self-interest should awake to the urgency of reminding readers and judges of this generation's gravest threat to our ability to ferret out the news.

Aha. Safire finally admits he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. He didn't actually interview any of the persons involved, he just chose the "apparent" and "presumed" facts he liked to reach a predetermined conclusion. The gravest threat to journalism is hack columnists who don't bother to learn the facts.

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