To the Point for 8/4/2005


MANY OF YOU DON’T KNOW JUDITH MILLER, but in the coming weeks and months you may get to know her name. Until recently she was simply a newspaper reporter for the New York Times, but now she’s sitting in a jail cell as a way of defending her principles — and your rights.

On July 6th U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan sent Judith Miller to jail for refusing to divulge a confidential source to a grand jury. The grand jury is investigating how the name of a CIA operative’s identity was made public.

In choosing not to disclose the name of her source, a person that Judith Miller promised she would keep secret, a reporter has been sent to jail until she either testifies and gives the person’s name; or until the grand jury’s term expires in late October.

What has transpired is a showdown between the federal government and the press that is growing bigger by the day.

Judith Miller and another reporter by the name of Matt Cooper were both ordered to jail for refusing to identify a source in connection with the investigation as to who gave reporter Robert Novak the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Just hours before he was to go to jail, the source who gave Matt Cooper his information voluntarily came forward and identified himself to the court.

The convictions were upheld at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, and Judith Miller was taken off to jail.

And she’s still there.

Now you may think what in the world does a big city reporter and a national scandal have to do with Switzerland County; but the matter goes to the very heart of each and every member of the press — big or small.

Newspapers, radio stations, television stations, Internet news agencies, and other forms of media take very seriously their charge to report the news that people want to hear; and also the news that people need to hear. The media operates in an atmosphere of secrecy many times because of an inner distrust of the media by members of public entities.

As a citizen you have the right to know what your government is doing. You deserve to know how your tax dollars are being spent; and you deserve to know who’s making the decisions on where those dollars are being spent.

You have the right as a citizen to sit in a public meeting of public officials and observe what they are doing. You have the right to question and ask for additional information; and you have the right to change leadership when your community or your state or your nation is going in what you feel is the wrong direction.

That’s why governmental entities are required to run public notices in newspapers — so that you can see how things are being done. That’s why there are “Open Door” laws in Indiana and other states that say that units of government can’t do business in private.

Did you know that Indiana law says that there are only seven reasons that a board or council can hold an executive session? Did you know that Indiana law limits the discussion in those meetings to one of those seven reasons and nothing else? Indiana has a Public Access Counselor whose job is to work with citizens who feel that units of government are trying to hide decisions or make decisions behind closed doors.

It’s not my law — it’s state law.

You live in a society where it is truly government “of the people, for the people, and by the people”; and in that charge is the government’s responsibility to be open with the public in its decisions.

But that doesn’t always happen, and when it doesn’t there are times when the media must inform the public that something isn’t right; and to do that often you have to gain reliable information from someone who would be in danger of losing their job or their position in the community if their names were made public.

So there is a matter of the confidentiality of sources, and at the state level there are laws that protect reporters from having to divulge that source.

But there is no such law at the federal level, and that’s why Judith Miller sits in a jail cell today. It is vital that people who see something wrong be able to tell others about it without putting their jobs in danger.

All of this happens in an atmosphere where units of government work very hard to keep information quiet and out of public view.

Reporters don’t give sources confidentiality on a whim, so when we do, we take that very seriously. So seriously in many cases, that reporters are ordered by judges to sit in jail cells until they change their mind.

Two Indiana legislators: Senator Dick Lugar and Congressman Mike Pence, have introduced legislation that would give reporters on a federal level the same protection that they have on a state level. Many other legislators have gotten onboard to support the bill.

Now the “free flow of information” is something that can be a rather fickle friend to all of us. Most of the time everyone races to read whose names are in the public record each week, but when you get a speeding ticket, suddenly you want the media to leave your name out.

It doesn’t — and can’t — work like that.

Freedom of access to public information is your right, and sometimes that means that you are on the other side of it. If this society is to continue to function freely, then information needs to travel back and forth without fear of interruption or censure.

It all sounds really good, but the truth is that Judith Miller is sitting in a jail cell to protect your right to know what’s going on. At a time when the media takes a continuous beating, I thought you might want to know her name.

By the way — that confidential source who voluntarily stepped forward to keep Matt Cooper out of jail? Carl Rove, advisor to President George W. Bush — how’s that for public information?