Saturday, June 03, 2006


Kudos to CNN for not joining in on the settlement with Wen Ho Lee.

The government settled its suit with Wen Ho Lee, the former Los Alamos scientist it had once accused of spying, for roughly $850,000. In the course of the investigation someone had leaked his name to the press, and Lee contended that this was a violation of privacy. I'm not sure this was a crime, but that's another story. The story here is that five news organizations, the AP, ABC News, The New York Times, the L.A. Times, and the Washington Post, ponied up $750,000 to pay him off as well, even though they were not part of the suit. They did it to end the legal action against their reporters who were being held in contempt of court for not revealing thier sources.

In the absense of a federal shield law these news organizations didn't have a leg to stand on. There is a reasonable debate as to whether or not the government should have been using the news as a weapon against Dr. Lee in its investigation, but there is no debate as to whether or not it was newsworthy. Dr. Lee was indeed under investigation, which is what was being reported. Dr. Lee argued that revelation of this was a violation of his privacy and the news organizations indicated that they were complicit in paying up.

This settlement touches on a lot of issues: how much privacy does a person actually have a right to? Is the official leaking of news ethical? Is the reporting of leaked news ethical? Should there be a shield law for reporters?

Let's forget for a second that there should be no need for a shield law: the 1st ammendment garauntees a free press, and if reporters have to reveal their sources then the press cannot perform its function and therefore is not free. But the Supreme Court doesn't see it that way. The conservative judicial activists on the current court defer to the government in these sorts of things, even though the bill of rights is specifically designed to protect people *from* the government. But we've got nine justices on the court for just this reason. The same nine justices-- 5 to 4, with Alito casting the deciding vote--who this week limited whistleblower protections for government employees, again defering tot he government and undermining our right, which is clearly protected in the constitution, to know what our government is doing.

So let's get this straight: Public Employees who blow the whistle on their offices just lost protections, and news organizations must now reveal their confidential sources, public employees have no right to free speech (part of this weeks decision) and reporting leaked news is an invasion of privacy. In this current Big Brother government, in which the Bush whitehouse views secrecy as a paramount virtue, this is the definition of "chilling." By going after news organizations and whistleblowers at the same time, they are silencing their critics. This government has shown that they want to act with impunity, and they have also shown--with Abu Grahib, the domestic spying issue, the Vallerie Plame case, and countless others--why, and why we as the American public cannot allow them to do so.

In otherwords, why we need a free and vigorous press and why people who blow the whistle on wrongdoing need to be protected.

But I'm off track. Let's look at the ethics of joining the Wen Ho Lee settlement. By doing so, the news organizations--WHICH WERE NOT EVEN PART OF THE LAWSUIT--are paying somebody off for something they weren't a part of and for an offendse that shouldn't even be an offense in the first place.

Which brings us to CNN. CNN stated that, as a matter of principal, they were not joining in the settlement. They did not think it was proper to buy themselves out from a subpeona. At still CNN they still believe in freedom of the press, and they are still willing to stand up for it. Thank God somebody is.


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