Seldom does a day pass that I read the news from the U.S. and wonder what happened to my home, the country I left five years ago. Today's news sickens me. The jailing of NY Times reporter Judith Miller is a moral outrage, a truly dark day for a country that prizes freedom of speech and accountable governance. It is not difficult to see that the Bush Administration has waged war on pesky journalists that question its decisions. But jailing journalists is a step right out of the ruling pamphlets of the Taliban or the fundamentalist clerics of Iran or the panicky Saudi Arabian oil barons. History shows it is done when a ruling elite, with a disproportionate lock on government, wants to silence all critics. In this case, the targets are those who question the gaping flaws in the Bush administration's dubious rationale for waging war in Iraq.
Taking journalists to court and insisting they name sources has two chilling effects: the government can defang the investigative journalists, and if that news outlet capitulates, they succeed in defanging the entire publication. For this reason, journalists stay loyal to their sources. It is a principled stance (to be sure, it is a lonely decision), but one that is essential to a true democracy.
And, it is not just journalists who feel this way. In 1972, Justice William O. Douglas wrote: "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring to fulfillment the public's right to know." Today, the NYT in a poignant editorial discusses this principled fight. In this case, the big loser in this fight is not Judith Miller, but the American people.