Journalists should not be manipulated by shielded sources
In the mid-1970s, journalistic icon, author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was rising to the pinnacle of his profession. His perseverant reporting had unmasked the corruption of the Nixon administration, and he was enjoying the benefits. Among them were increasingly cozy relationships with Washington insiders.
Sometime during the subsequent 30 years, Woodward grew unusually close to his new friends.
On Nov. 16, The Washington Post reported on his Nov. 14 testimony before a federal grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to members of the media. According to The Post, an anonymous source informed Woodward of Plame's identity almost one month before a syndicated column by Robert Novak officially blew her cover. For two years, Woodward maintained a lie of omission, failing to tell his superiors at The Post about the important piece of information he had acquired until October 2005.
While Woodward maintains the respect of his peers, his recent actions and poor defense of them are a disgrace to his profession, and his handling of the unnamed source shows a blatant disregard for the virtues that he so stridently worked for during Watergate.
Woodward's role is integral to the ongoing Plame saga. In July 2003, an anti-war opinion piece by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, appeared in The New York Times. In an attempt to discredit Wilson, who had been in Niger investigating claims that Saddam Hussein pursued uranium for nuclear weapons, administration officials leaked Plame's name to as many as seven reporters, claiming that she specifically recommended that Wilson be sent to Niger.
The Justice Department promised an investigation into the leak one week after Novak's column was published. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald opened the investigation in December 2003, and his federal grand jury began questioning administration officials in January 2004.
Woodward, who, despite the circumstances surrounding the leak, maintains that he never felt manipulated by his sources, ought to have done what he would have done 30 years ago: torpedo relationships with sources and alert not just Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr., but also the public to the administration's misconduct.
In the days following his appearance before the grand jury, Woodward went on national television to defend himself. On CNN's Larry King Live on Nov. 21, Woodward said that the reason he did not mention his knowledge to anyone was that he was "trying to avoid being subpoenaed." Going before the grand jury meant revealing his sources, and Woodward did not want to compromise his relationships with powerful people.
In refraining from publishing the names of his sources, Woodward is shielding officials from the consequences they deserve. Woodward has become complicit in the Plame cover-up, helping to delay the discovery of wrongdoing.
A titan of journalism has lost sight of the purpose of media: to encourage transparency by informing the public of government actions. Reporters cannot handcuff themselves with confidentiality rules while being pushed around by the very sources they protect.
Those who leaked Plame's name cheapened the value of a free press and, as a result, damaged their own credibility by using the media as a tool of political retribution. They must be revealed, charged and brought to justice.
Kiran Bhat. Kiran Bhat is a senior who loves the Washington Redskins, 24, Coldplay, Kanye West, Damien Rice, Outkast and Common (Sense). He aspires to be the next Sanjay Gupta. He will miraculously grow a Guptaesque telegenic face and sculpted body by the age of 30. In … More »