FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IS NOT JUST FOR THE PRESS. The First Amendment belongs to everyone - not just to those who carry a press card. If you were hauled before a grand jury and ordered to reveal what someone had told you in confidence about a crime that was being investigated, you would have to testify. Or go to jail.
That's why Time magazine's Matthew Cooper is behind bars today in the ongoing investigation into the Valerie Plame leak. [Correction: Cooper's jail stay is on hold pending appeal.] Plame, as you may recall, was an undercover CIA operative until last July, when syndicated columnist Robert Novak exposed her identity in the course of dumping on her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, the protagonist of that infamous mint-tea-sipping trip to Niger.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating who leaked Plame's name to Novak, apparently believes that Cooper and NBC's Tim Russert have information that he needs. Russert avoided jail by providing Fitzgerald with some information. Josh Marshall writes that Cooper's behavior is more honorable than Russert's, but I think that judgment is premature. We don't yet know what Russert did or didn't say. For that matter, we may never know.
This case carries with it enormous implications for freedom of the press, and it's just starting to unfold. But unless you're prepared to argue for special privileges for reporters that the rest of the public doesn't enjoy, you might want to hesitate before expressing any outrage at Fitzgerald.
It's not that Cooper isn't doing the right thing. He is. It's just that there may be no good alternative.