Topic: Media

Robert Novak and the Plame Affair

A full-fledged investigation is going on to determine who in the Bush Administration leaked the identity and CIA status of Valerie Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson, you recall, had been critical of the Administration’s foreign policy, and many believe Novak’s source was out to hurt him by endangering his wife.

Novak’s status as a veteran journalist and leak-meister has shielded him from the ethical scrutiny he richly deserves. Millions of dollars are being spent to track down the source of material which he decided to print. His action was the final link in the chain which outed the operative status of Ms. Plane. His source, if apprehended, will face criminal prosecution. Novak should not be permitted to sit smugly behind a questionable shield of

First Amendment protection. It may have been legal to print the illegal link, but it was not right. Novak used poor judgement, and preliminary results of the investigation have uncovered disturbing reports that Novak was warned not to print the information about Plame, that he knew, or had reason to know, that to do so could place her in danger.

By what standard of journalistic ethics would Novak be justified in printing the name of a CIA operative that was revealed in the course of an illegal leak by someone seeking to use his column as a tool of political revenge? Forget about Novak’s claim that the information was being “peddled” to other journalists and would have been revealed anyway: he is supposed to tend to his ethics, and let other journalists tend to theirs.

As Aly Colon wrote recently in the Poynter Ethics Journal,

“There’s an old adage that claims journalists are only as good as the sources that feed them. Here’s a new one: Journalists are only as credible as the ethics that guide them.”

The Administration leaker, when he or she is identified, will deserve whatever punishment is meted out. There are no ethical questions surrounding that. But Robert Novak thinks he is blameless in all this, when he was a co-conspirator in every way.

His own status as a respected journalist shouldn’t prevent him from being “outed” as well.

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