Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Two and a half cheers for a free press!

This Magazine Staff

Over at THIS Magazine, we like to boast that nobody owns us, meaning we are beholden to no-one’s worldview, not our advertisers’ (chief among them Canada’s labour unions), not any political party’s (despite being sometimes known as the media wing of the NDP—not true; we write better than the NDP). We like our writers, and readers, to make up their own minds and to be brave and smart in how they express their views. In other words we believe, in theory, that journalism, while highly political, does not practice politics.

Linda McQuaig (yes, I realize she is on our masthead) seems to have changed her mind on this matter. I read her op-ed in the Sunday Star over the weekend, and was, well, confused. In the matter of Karl Rove versus all concepts of decency, Ms. McQuaig and I agree, but her criticism of Rove was only a little tributary of her criticism of the press in the United States. Specifically, Ms McQuaig apparently believes that Judith Miller, a New York Times writer recently jailed for that time-honoured journalistic principle of protecting confidential sources, should do the right thing, get off her cell floor and tell the world that Karl Rove was her source.

She writes:

Surely protecting sources is about protecting people who take risks in order to get important information out to the public, not about protecting powerful officials who try to smear whistle-blowers and use the press to keep the public in the dark about crucially important matters — like the fabrication of the case for war… And if journalists are willing to sacrifice themselves to defend a journalistic principle, they should skip the jail-time histrionics and just do their jobs properly. They could start with exposing the administration’s deceit about Iraq…

There is something uncomfortably Rovian about the way McQuaig undermines Miller, painting her as an untalented mouthpiece for the Bush White House and suggesting she is serving time in the pokey “to preserve her White House connections,” all of which may be true indeed, but none of which cancels out the importance of the principle being upheld. Press freedom, including the freedom to maintain confidentiality, is under enough threat in North America right now without members of the press ganging up on it as well. Is Karl Rove manipulating the news media in the US and attempting to weaken its key functions? Probably. Should we help him? I’m thinking not.

Keeping our sources confidential is not a political tool. It’s a principle. If we like it when it protects our cherished whistle-blowers (as it did during the fall of Nixon), we sort of need to like it when it protects Karl Rove. Don’t we?

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