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Time to disclose sources in press freedom case

July 1, 2005

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Faced with jail for one of itsreporters, Time magazine agreed on Thursday to hand over hisnotebooks to a grand jury probing the leak of a covert CIAoperative’s name, in a move that raises questions about pressfreedom in America.

The decision came just a day after a judge gave MatthewCooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times a weekbefore sentencing them for refusing to reveal their sources tothe grand jury.

The move, which the New York Times said in a reportappeared to be “without precedent in living memory,” appearedto be over Cooper’s objections.

Cooper was not available for comment but on Wednesday hislawyer said he was prepared to accept jail and would nottestify. Cooper also said then he would rather Time did nothand over the papers, but conceded that “a corporation isdifferent than a citizen (and) has different obligations.”

The case is an important test of reporters’ refusal toidentify confidential sources when asked by a court –something seen as inherent in the First Amendment to the U.S.Constitution that guarantees freedom of the press.

New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said thenewspaper was “deeply disappointed by Time Inc.’s decision” andhe would support Miller. She was not available for comment buthas repeatedly vowed to go to prison rather than testify.

The newspaper itself is not facing contempt chargesapparently because it does not have any of the relevantdocuments but Time had faced a fine of $1,000 a day.

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a ruling that the twoshould be held in contempt of court. An appeals court had ruledthey should be jailed for refusing to testify in the probe ofwho leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003 tojournalist Robert Novak, who identified her in a syndicatedcolumn. Plame’s husband had criticized the Bush administrationduring the Iraq war.

“The Supreme Court has limited press freedom in ways thatwill have a chilling effect on our work and that may damage thefree flow of information that is so necessary in a democraticsociety,” Time Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine said.

But he said Time had decided to hand over the documentsbecause the Constitution also “requires obedience to finaldecisions of the courts and respect for their rulings.”

Pearlstine rejected a suggestion by the Wall Street Journalthat the decision was influenced by a clash betweenjournalistic standards and the financial concerns of parentcompany Time Warner Inc. .

“The suggestion that there was any corporate influence isridiculous,” Pearlstine said in an interview with Reuters,adding that he had complete editorial independence and had madehis decision on the grounds that journalists are no more abovethe law than anybody else.

“Once the Supreme Court had spoken … we had no choice butto adhere to the law,” he said. Pearlstine said he believed thedecision would remove the need for Cooper to testify “andcertainly removes any justification for incarceration.”

Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat engagedby the Bush administration to investigate whether Iraq hadsought nuclear weapons, accused the White House of beingresponsible for the leak. He said officials did so becauseWilson had publicly disputed a claim by President Bush aboutIraq’s attempts to secure such weapons.

Interviewed by CNN this week, Novak declined to say whetherhe had cooperated with investigators in the case.

William Safire wrote in The New York Times this week thatNovak, known for writing opinion columns favorable to the Bushadministration, owed fellow journalists an explanation for howhis sources “managed to get the prosecutor off his back.”

A hearing is set for July 6 to decide sentences againstMiller, Cooper and Time.

(additional reporting by Carol Vaporean)