I always follow news about news. Being in the biz, I'm inherently interested in this kind of thing. I don't know if the general public finds this as interesting as I do. Probably not. But I think it should. I often encounter people who are grossly uninformed about what it is that journalists do, and the unwritten code of ethics we follow. People have asked me if I would pay to interview them or if they could review a story before it went to print. In both cases, the answer is never. It seems so obviously wrong to me for either to happen. Sometimes I'm offended by such requests. Is that what you think of us? That we would pay you for a story? How am I supposed to get the truth if the motivation to talk to me is cash?
Now, granted, people probably hear all the time about other folks selling their stories. (Newsflash: journalists do not buy stories. The entertainment industry does.) And granted, people have other motivations to talk to reporters, and sometimes it's for personal gain.
And yeah, it's not like every reporter follows the same guidelines and that some don't do unethical things (hello Jason Blair). It's not like they hand you a book when you graduate from journalism school that lists the do's and don't. It's not that black and white. Ethics never are. Hell, you don't even have to go to J school to be a journalist. This is not a profession like medicine or law, though some people like to think of it that way.
But I'd like to think the general public understands that the point of reporting is to seek the truth. And that while it is impossible for reporters and editors to be completely unbiased and impartial, that we strive for fairness. And in striving for fairness and the truth, we follow certain notions of what is ethical.
And I think it's unethical to reveal a confidential source. I suppose the judge in this case, Thomas Hogan, has a valid point too, which is that journalists are not above the law and have no greater rights than anyone else when called upon to testify in court. But if journalists start doing that, how can people trust reporters anymore if they become conduits to the government to gather information?
I don't like using confidential sources -- it's always better to use a name -- but sometimes you have to, because the source is a whistleblower, or maybe because making the peron's name public would endanger them. I've promised gang members, immigrants and other people that I would never reveal their names.
I think if I were in Judith Miller's shoes, I would do the same thing and refuse to testify, even if it meant a stint in jail. And even if it meant, as is possible in this case, that revealing sources would prove that the Bush Administration had leaked information to get back at a former U.S. Ambassador who had publically criticized it days before. Either way you look at it the government is trying to use the press (government leaks info to press, government tries to compell press to to talk and get info). Not an easy situation. Judith Miller's taking a stand. We should all be grateful.