The cost of a reporter’s freedom

On the surface it may seem obvious and self-serving for a newspaper editorial to decry the nearly three-month jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller as well as her capitulation to name that source in exchange for her release. Hey, that’s an insider media problem, nothing the rest of America should worry about.

But the fact is the nation as a whole is poorer for what has transpired. When a federal judge sentenced Miller to report to and remain in a federal prison in Virginia until she agreed to reveal her source in the high-profile case concerning the outing of a CIA agent, he breached a sacred line that keeps the government out of the way the press does its business in service of the public.

Forget the fact that as a reporter Miller was little more than a cheerleader for the Bush administration’s war on Iraq and that the person (or persons) she was protecting violated the law, not to mention the very life, of a CIA operative, all in the name of political revenge. As repelling as the players in this particular drama may be, the principle of the matter remains—a free society must have a free press.

If we’ve learned anything while living under the Bush administration, it’s that we can’t rely on the government to provide the news. Think of the gritty reality of the ongoing war in Iraq and how that news would be delivered without an independent press. Think of hurricane Katrina and how the rescue and recovery efforts would have been described if left to the government spokespeople.

The American people need and deserve a free press; tossing reporters into prison takes us further from that ideal and closer to living in a totalitarian state.