TIME’S SOURCES….Time magazine’s reporters are saying that editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine’s decision to turn over Matt Cooper’s notes and emails in the Valerie Plame case is souring their sources on cooperating with them:
On Monday, two Time correspondents, upset about Pearlstine’s decision to release Cooper’s notes, showed top company officials e-mails from sources who said they would now have trouble trusting the magazine. The tense meeting in the Washington bureau with Pearlstine, Time Inc. Editorial Director John Huey and Managing Editor Jim Kelly was “angry” and filled with “bile,” said several participants who requested anonymity because the meeting was confidential.
One reporter, Mark Thompson, circulated copies of an e-mail from a woman who deals regularly with whistle-blowers, saying that she would not turn over a confidential source to Time and that the magazine had slid to the bottom of her media list. He told Pearlstine the Cooper decision had “made our job a heck of a lot tougher.” Another, Brian Bennett, displayed a similar note from a source with the name blacked out.
It’s hard to know how seriously to take this, but one thing it demonstrates is that Time’s corporate decision in this case was a lot more important that Matt Cooper’s personal decision. The worst-case result of Cooper’s decision was damage to his own career, but the worst-case result of Pearlstine’s decision is damage to every single reporter who works for Time.
It may be, as Pearlstine argues, that the Plame case is unique, but that strikes me as a thin reed. The last few years have seen an increasing trend toward intimidation of reporters and their sources, and I suspect we’re going to see even more of this now that Patrick Fitzgerald has so publicly shown the way. The answer is a federal shield law, and Christopher Dodd’s Free Speech Protection Act of 2005 is short and easily understood. It’s time to get serious about passing it.