Michael Barone has a long post today on the possibility of prosecuting reporters and/or publishers for violating the Espionage Act:
Part of me says that a prosecution of the Times and its sources would be fully justified… That part of me also tends to think that the Times, in its contradictory stances on the Plame and NSA disclosures, has been acting out of malicious political motives and in reckless disregard of the real security interests of the United States. So a prosecution would be a fair comeuppance. But part of me is also genuinely queasy about the prospects of prosecutions of the press, queasy about the possibility of selective prosecution if not now then in the future, queasy about giving prosecutors the task of determining which secrets are essential to the national security and which are just the results of casual overclassification, queasy lest the government by overclassification enforced by prosecution should unduly restrict the flow of information to the public.
The answer when there are grave risks on all sides is that everyone should act with caution and restraint. The Times hasn’t. It has recklessly brought this peril on itself. But that doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t act with caution and restraint. I’m glad the decision isn’t mine to make. What’s your call?
I’m glad you asked. Here’s my call, from about five months back:
Speaking as just one of the multitudes of “little people” with security clearances who’re regularly reminded of the severe legal penalties for just making an honest mistake in failing to protect classified information (never mind deliberately revealing anything), I can’t say I feel any sympathy for the bigger wigs in D.C. who just as regularly commit violations that would put me in jail.
The law applies to everybody equally–or at least it ought to. Pat Leahy, Dick Shelby, Sandy-freakin’-Berger and everybody who works for them ought to face the same jeopardies I do when it comes to protecting this information, and if Jack Shafer and “national security reporters” don’t like it, tough.
You want to try and change those laws and/or their penalties, go right ahead. It’s a free country. But don’t sit there and tell me the “big boys” deserve the special privilege they’ve been getting from federal prosecutors who don’t want to cross the press.
That goes for the “journalists” who knowingly publish classified information as well. The law is the same for everybody–or at least it should be. As I’ve said many times before, reporters are not superior beings. They are not entitled to a seperate set of rules from everybody else.
If the law applies to me, it damn well also applies to them.