As this is written, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is back on the street after doing 85 days of moderately hard time for refusing to testify to the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity to columnist Robert Novak. The source Miller was protecting turned out to be Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby. Libby handed the reporter her “get out of jail” card when he personally released her from the pledge of anonymity.
In recent months, media heavyweights and civil libertarians have flocked to Miller’s defense. Bob Woodward, the Washington Post pioneer of the secret source, publicly offered to do Miller’s time for her. Miller’s attorney, Floyd Abrams—who, back in the day, represented The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case—sought to portray Miller’s case as a heroic battle for freedom of the press. In this version of events, Miller stands for an independent news media, which, of course, is our last line of defense against governmental abuse of power. Abrams argued that forcing Miller to divulge her sources would cripple the functioning of a free press and thus thwart the intentions of the Founding Fathers.
There’s a saying among lawyers. “When the law is against you, argue the facts, and when the facts are against you, argue the law.” The facts in the Miller case are these: Miller was not protecting a whistleblower trying to stop an abuse of power. She was protecting someone in the government who abused his power (i.e. access to classified information) to punish the real whistleblower—Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, who’d exposed Bush’s lies about the Iraqi nuclear weapons program.