Thursday, June 30, 2005

MEMO TO SELF Remember not to talk on background with any reporters from Time magazine. Or any of these outlets.

UPDATE: There are a number of reasonable arguments Time Inc. could have put forward in defense of its decision to hand over documents revealing confidential sources.

It could have argued that anonymous sources who use anonymity as a cloak to engage in politically-motivated, legally dubious disclosures forfeit the right to have their names withheld.

Or it could have asserted that while such sources maintain the right to anonymity, a journalist's commitment to a source who has compromised himself through his behavior isn't strong enough justify breaking the law.

But instead, Time Inc. decided to hide behind the Constitution:

The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments. That Time Inc. strongly disagrees with the courts provides no immunity. The innumerable Supreme Court decisions in which even Presidents have followed orders with which they strongly disagreed evidences that our nation lives by the rule of law and that none of us is above it.

I've grown pretty cynical over the last few years, but I'd still like to think Time is being a bit disingenuous here: Surely there exists some situations (Watergate-type scandals, Constitutional crises) in which Time would disobey a valid court order that the Supreme Court let stand. It's just that the company doesn't think this situation rises to that standard.

And that's fine, if a bit dispiriting.

But what's obnoxious is when Time turns around and says this:

We believe that the Supreme Court has limited press freedom in ways that will have a chilling effect on our work and that may damage the free flow of information that is so necessary in a democratic society.
Let's be clear: The Supreme Court's decision isn't welcome to anyone who works in journalism. But it's Time's behavior here--breaking its commitment to anonymous sources--that causes the chilling effect.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.