Saturday, November 19


Okay, WaPo editorial board. You've demonstrated not onky your failure to understand the issues associated with Bob Woodward's failure to disclose the fact that he was an early (if not the earliest) target of the White House campaign to out CIA operative Valerie Plame but your ignorance of your own reporter's history.

But over the years innumerable cases of official corruption and malfeasance have come to light thanks to sources being able to count on confidentiality. It's astonishing to see so many people -- especially in the journalism establishment -- forget that now. Many of those who condemn Mr. Woodward applauded when The Post recently revealed the existence of CIA prisons around the world, a story that relied on unnamed sources.

Is there a distinction to be made based on the motives of the leakers? If so, Mr. Woodward might have had to pass up his first big scoops three decades ago, because his Watergate source, Deep Throat -- recently revealed as FBI official W. Mark Felt -- was disgruntled at having been passed over for the post of FBI director. Newspapers face difficult questions all the time in evaluating the reliability of sources and the appropriateness of publishing their secrets. But if potential sources come to believe that they cannot count on promises of confidentiality, more than the media will suffer.

First of all, the only case of official corruption we're talking about here is the outing of Valerie Plame, which was done by the very confidential sources WaPo is defending. His sources weren't exposing corruption, they were practicing it.

Secondly, Bob Woodward used "Deep Throat" for guidance on the Watergate story, not as a sole "unnamed source" of any individual reporting. In those glory days of Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee, Woodward and Bernstein were ordered to obtain at least two sources for any reporting -- one would not suffice, they had to get confirmation. Even if Felt's motives were suspect, his information had to be vetted. If an allegation is established as a fact, the motives behind its relevation become irrelevant. And as far as I can tell, nothing Mark Felt told Bob Woodward violated national security interests. In fact, his information was pointed at revealing a crime, not committing one.

Not so with the Plame outing.

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