Thursday, July 21, 2005


Two this morning from the NY Times editors:

Off Course in Iraq

Women are not the only ones facing big losses in the new Iraq. The Sunni minority continues to be treated with contempt and suspicion because it enjoyed a privileged position under the old Baathist dictatorship. It took considerable American pressure to get a fair share of Sunnis, as members and consultants, added to the committee working on the new constitution. Two of those appointed Sunnis were assassinated by insurgents this week, and yesterday the others temporarily suspended their participation, citing security concerns.

In considering whether to put their lives on the line again, these Sunnis will not be encouraged by the latest destructive antics of Ahmad Chalabi, the former American favorite who is now a powerful deputy prime minister. Mr. Chalabi, who has long advocated barring even low-level former Baathists from official employment, has now succeeded in disrupting and discrediting the judicial tribunal preparing for the trial of Mr. Hussein. He is pressing for the dismissal of senior staff members, including a top judge, because of former Baathist associations.

The single most crucial requirement for Mr. Hussein's trial is preserving the appearance of impartial justice in the name of the whole Iraqi nation. Mr. Chalabi's actions, which his nominal boss, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, seems powerless to oppose, risk turning the proceedings into a tawdry spectacle of sectarian revenge, which would only fuel divisive and deadly hatreds.
Followed by:

Time for a Federal Shield Law

It was immensely encouraging to see Republican and Democratic lawmakers testify together yesterday about the need for the federal government to follow the lead of 49 states and guarantee that journalists are allowed the right to protect the names of confidential sources in most circumstances.
But the day's testimony was also disturbing. Witnesses spoke of the dozens of subpoenas that have been issued to journalists in recent times and the half-dozen or more reporters who have been found to be in contempt of court for doing their jobs - some journalists, like Judith Miller of The Times, have actually been jailed. As Mr. Dodd pointed out, the idea that jailing reporters will inhibit journalism is not a theoretical worry. Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc., testified yesterday that since his decision to turn over notes in the Valerie Wilson case to the federal prosecutor, Time reporters had shown him mail "from valuable sources who insisted that they no longer trusted the magazine." The Cleveland Plain Dealer has announced it will not publish two investigative reports because they are based on leaked documents and the paper fears the possibility of subpoenas. Its editor said, "Jail is too high a price to pay." We regret that decision, but it should at least ring alarm bells for Congress.

The amendments added this week to bills before the Senate and the House would provide for the forced disclosure of confidential sources "to prevent imminent and actual harm to the national security." It is a narrow exception that journalists should support, because as William Safire, the retired Times columnist, testified yesterday, "We are not seeking an absolute privilege." We second Mr. Safire's caution that an imminent threat means an actual and urgent threat, not a potential threat.
Both pieces are pretty good; it's too bad the Times doesn't have a shred of credibility on either topic at this point. As for the first, the Times should be legally required to add the modifier "who is only in power because Judith Queen of All Iraq Miller conspired with him to sell America a phony war" everytime they mention Chalabi. That the Times still perceives getting burned by a low-rent grifter like Jayson Blair to be a bigger deal than offering safe haven for a duplicitous neocon mouthpiece like Miller--who I'd bet is still drawing an ample paycheck behind bars--is a travesty.

As for the second issue, well, let's consider Judith Queen of All the Cellblock Miller again. While the Times editors hastily complete the paperwork necessary for her canonization, those of us with memories more enduring than that of a typical CNN reporter well recall that Judy has a history of playing it fast and loose with the boundaries between reporter and participant, and wonder if maybe she doesn't have more than just the name of a source to protect here.


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