NEW YORK TIMES ATTORNEY SPEAKS ABOUT JUDITH MILLER CASE-Andrew Stelzer03/03/06
George Freeman, the Assistant general Council for the New York Times, was the keynote speaker at Stetson Universityâ€™s daylong seminar on media and the law. He spoke about the case of Times reporter Judith Miller, who wasnâ€™t sentenced to 4 months in prison last year for contempt, when she refused to reveal her confidential sources to the government. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer was there, and filed this report
Freeman said he believes that miller serving 12 weeks in jail was the best scenario that the times could have arranged, because the DC circuit court has never been good at protecting press freedoms.
ACT â€œwe believed all along that protecting sources in critical, in Dc especially, almost all info is off the record, they need ananimity..our reporter understood it, and in the absence of source, she was willing to go to jail to protect the principal, so we went into litigation mode..â€?
Negotiations with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to narrow down what Miller would talk about were not going well, and so the timesâ€™ team of lawyers took a calculated risk, and decided to let the case go to court. Freeman said the Times was hoping that for a number of reasons, the case would not be pursued by Fitzgerald.
ACT. â€œfitz may have gotten distracted, ..PR point of view, and maybe Kerry would have won, and changed political landscape, they all seemed feesable and were reasons to litigate to solve the problem..â€?
It was Judith Millers idea to reach out to Lewis Libby and his attorney, and ask for a waiver to testify about their conversations, which allowed her to get released from Prison after 12 weeks in jail. Freeman said the publicâ€™s reaction, and the medias coverage of the case could not be ignored in dealing with the fall out.
ACT â€œthere was great antipathy towards Judy. She was a lightning rod for criticism, and so criticism of her magnified. It focused on her sharp elbows and more significantly WMD reporting, although e tried to , it was impossible to divorce, as criticism of the war mounted, also bloggers questioned her testifying, while they also said at the outset she should of testified..â€?
Freeman believes Miller has been treated unfairly by both the government and the public at large. He said heâ€™s concerned about the recent survey showing finding Americans can name more members of the Simpsonâ€™s family than protections under the first amendment.
ACT â€œso we really are in a situation her the public s uninformed and uneducated about what we have for them. That came out yesterday in Colorado teacher was suspended, so the public will have a worse view of the first amendment, our job is to explain the subject.
Freeman said that one positive thatâ€™s come out of the case is that the congress is currently debating a shield law, protecting reporters from having to divulge confidential sources. Freeman said thatâ€™s all the more essential in the current political climate.
ACT â€œthe government is mounting a huge attack on the press, so we can get less information, so we can criticize the government less, and finally ironically they want us to testify..â€?
Freeman also defended the New York Times refusal to speak publically about the matter through much of the court proceedings.
ACT â€œemphasis on transparency is troubling..without being hypocritical, I donâ€™t think the media has a burden to be transparent. I re member I was upset when there was a blogger, who was the acting dean of a journalism schools. I wanted to ask him, when kids committee suicide, was he being transparent. I doubt it. Was he willing to share teacher evals, I doubt it, I donâ€™t know why its justified when the rest of society doesnâ€™t, the notion that because we are the press, were doing it to ourselves an heâ€™s beating the hell out of us, and while we should be subject to criticism, the problem is the lack of understanding and the governments campaign at restricting those rights..â€?
After his speech, WMNF spoke to George Freeman, we began by asking him if the Judith Miller case has changed the way reporters at the times approach their stories and if they ask for more legal advice from the papers attorneys.
ACT â€œNot very much, but I think everyone is concerned about the issue..its good journalistically, I wouldnâ€™t say there is a huge change, but there is a fear and a threat that if confidential we are going to loss newsâ€¦WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SHIELD LAW LEGISLATION?..its good, but its all about the states,..if it gets passed, thatâ€™s the problem, the legislation might not pass..The states can prosecute quite successfully, why ant the feds protect similarly..WAS POST 9-11 REPORTING LET THE GOVT PUSH THE MEDAI AROUNDâ€¦the notion that if you question you are not helpfulâ€¦obviously wartime government bands together more, but we have to keep in mind not to have national ID cards, and while we have a preeminent interest in national security, what are we protecting..â€?
For WMNF news, In Andrew Stelzer