Editor's Notes at EditorsNotes.com

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Liable Source

Michael Kinsley, LAT:

Should it be illegal for a government official to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent? Most reasonable people, including most reporters, would probably say yes. Lives can be at stake. But for all practical purposes, such a law (which in fact we have) is unenforceable if a government official chooses to reveal the agent's identity to a journalist, and the journalist ignores a subpoena to testify about it.


[I]f the crime consists of a private conversation between two people, you need at least one of them to 'fess up. The government official is protected against self-incrimination by the 5th Amendment. If the journalist has an absolute right and an absolute duty to shield the identity of a source, both sides of the conversation are immune and prosecution is impossible.

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