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February 15, 2005: Appeals Court: Reporters Must Testify in Plame Wilson Leak Case

Matt Cooper and Judith Miller.Matt Cooper and Judith Miller. [Source: Paul J.Richards / AFP / Getty Images (left) and New York Times (right)]An appeals court rules 3-0 that reporters Judith Miller (see August 12, 2004 and After) and Matthew Cooper (see October 13, 2004) must testify in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Both the New York Times and Time magazine will appeal the ruling to a full appeals court and eventually to the Supreme Court (see June 27, 2005). The appeals court rules that because Miller and Cooper may have witnessed a federal crime—the disclosure of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity by government officials (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003)—the First Amendment does not protect them from testifying to the possible crime. The court finds that a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, Branzburg v. Hayes, applies: in that case, a reporter was ordered to testify about witnessing the production of illegal drugs. Writing for the appeals court, Judge David Sentelle notes that the Supreme Court “stated that it could not ‘seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects the newsman’s agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof, on the theory that it is better to write about a crime than to do something about it.’” (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 pdf file; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger says of the ruling: “The Times will continue to fight for the ability of journalists to provide the people of this nation with the essential information they need to evaluate issues affecting our country and the world. And we will challenge today’s decision and advocate for a federal shield law that will enable the public to continue to learn about matters that directly affect their lives.” Miller says, “I risk going to jail for a story I didn’t write, for reasons a court won’t explain.” (Liptak 2/16/2005)


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