Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Former New York Times Reporter Talks Freedom of the Press

By Courtney Westlake



In the past, the public has turned to the press for information that is being suppressed, and leaking the truth is healthy for the balance of the country. Currently, though, that balance is being thrown off, according to Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and former investigative reporter for The New York Times who was on campus on Wednesday, November 7.

Miller's evening presentation and a luncheon seminar also Wednesday featuring Charles Lewis were the first two programs in the Government Accountability and a Free Press Project, a series of events designed to explore legal, ethical, and practical political and policy issues that may arise as members of the press engage in investigative reporting that is intended to uncover less-than-transparent government conduct.

In July 2005, Miller was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the source of a leak outing Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent. Miller did not write about Plame, but she reportedly possessed evidence relevant to the investigation. Because of this, she spent 85 days in jail, twice as long as any American reporter has ever been confined for protecting a confidential source.

On Wednesday, Miller spoke about freedom of the press. Lewis and a panel of investigative reporters from around the area were also part of the presentation, and Bill Wheelhouse, general manager of public radio station WUIS 91.9 FM, was the moderator of the event.

"Other reporters are also in jeopardy," Miller said during her speech. "The number of journalists being subpoenaed in civil and criminal investigations in the United States to force them to disclose who leaked secret information to them is growing dramatically."

Some issues, however, need to be confidential to the government, Miller admitted. From her experiences as a reporter in Iraq, she has seen the necessity for certain information, like troop deployment, to be "secrets," she said.

"But why did the Pentagon also insist on banning TV cameras from recording the return of our dead in caskets from Iraq? Why did it prohibit the publication of photographs of those caskets?" Miller asked. "Reporting restrictions on reporters and growing secrecy has led the American Society of Newspaper Editors to issue a call to arms to its members, urging them to demand answers about this deeply disturbing trend of secrecy."

The "war on our freedoms" is putting civil liberties in danger, Miller said.

"Over the years, far more damage has been done to national security by government secrecy and deceit than by the press's reporting of that secret information," she said. "The pendulum, that national balance, may be swinging too far toward national security and away from civil liberties, and as a result, we risk now being both less free and less safe."

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