For much of the current president's administration, the media has been viewed with disdain and animosity. As it turns out however, two American journalists may have been risking their own freedom to protect one of their worst detractors.
The saga of The New York Times and Time magazine reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper began back in 2003. Both were following up on a column by Chicago Sun-Times writer and CNN contributor Robert Novak whom had revealed the name of a secret CIA operative, apparently given to him by a senior White House official.
The deep cover operative, one Valerie Plame, turned out to be the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly contested some of the President's assertions for going to war in Iraq. The leak was beginning to take the form of a smear and intimidation campaign by the administration, aimed at someone for publicly disputing the administrations supposed factual evidence.
Public and political outcry followed, by those demanding to know who within the government had given out such classified information. It goes beyond mere rhetoric to suggest that whomever leaked the agent's identity was guilty of treason. According to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, leaking the name of an undercover agent is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
By the time the President had received enough political flak to appoint an investigator into the matter, only Miller and Cooper had received any viable information on the leak. The two reporters became the target of the investigation. Neither however, was willing to give up their journalistic integrity by naming their source. Why Novak, the original writer to break the news was not receiving the blunt of the attention is unclear and can only be speculative.
What is known is that by last week, Miller and Cooper had been found in contempt and were facing jail time after exhausting all their appeals and resources. The Supreme Court itself had refused the final appeal and the situation was looking bleak for reporters and lovers of the First Amendment everywhere.
Apparently this was enough for the editor of Time magazine, who decided to turn over all of Cooper's emails and notes. Suddenly the floodgates of information seem to be opening and it looks like the President chose a good time for a European vacation.
The emails don't lie and it names names. According to senior MSNBC analyst Lawrence O'Donnell, two officials privy to the information have revealed that White House "mastermind" Karl Rove is the source named. Since the revelation, Rove's lawyer has publicly admitted the two conferred while obviously not divulging the shared information.
What is brewing is a powder keg of monumental proportions. The President's top advisor, the man many credit with his being elected may be prosecuted for a Federal offense. What can this say about the President, a man who has had to replace nearly every cabinet member he has hired since taking office at least once? If the charges are true and stick, then what if anything did Bush know about the leak? If Bush knew nothing of the leaked identity, what does that say of his own ability to manage a team, much less a country? The loss of political "capitol" will be interesting to follow as the fight over a new Supreme Court justice heats up.
The sick irony in the matter is that members of the press corps, whom Bush and Rove have so often showed disdain for, were willing to pay the ultimate price to protect them. If only Time's editor had been as willing to see his man go down the administration may have left this hornets' nest unstung.