On C-Span today, there was an interesting debate over reporters' right to maintain source confidentiality. The debate follows several high-profile arrests of reporters for refusing to divulge confidential sources to prosecutors, in particular the 18-month sentence handed down to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In response to the sentence for contempt, Miller said, "This is about all journalists and about all government officials who provide information on the promise of confidentiality. Without that, they won't come forward, and the public won't be informed" (The Washington Post).
In the C-Span debates, those who approved of the arrest cited a number of worst-case scenarios and legal issues, such as the question of who should be included as a journalist (pejorative and comical images of bloggers wearing pajamas came up repeatedly).
As one of those pajama-clad bloggers, I think a larger issue lurks behind this debate. Democracy, if it is to work at all, is driven by people who have access to information. It is, of course, difficult for citizens to learn enough to make educated decisions, but democracy becomes impossible if the people have no idea what the government is doing.
For this reason, the current administration is clearly heading in the wrong direction. The U.S. government has become so secretive that it now insists on keep ing even Vietnam-era decision-making under wraps in many cases. We have CIA files that are decades old that are still classified--even though the countries these files refer to no longer even exist and the agents refered to are all dead. The reason for this is that these files often show the government's deception of the U.S. people. The shroud of secrecy is therefore more often to protect the government from public scrutiny than it is to protect it from its so-called enemies.
Of course, the argument can be made that the government is stronger if it can operate in secret. This is true. Fascist governments are strong. Democracy is messy, time-consuming, and less efficient. But a fascist government isn't our government. A government operating in secret isn't informed by our opinion, but rather by the opinion of those who are in on the secret (corporations, etc.) Investigative reporting (with confidential sources and leaks such as those that led to Watergate) are thus essential to make government more transparent.
Other blogments on the issue include those of Loaded Mouth, Hypocrites.com, Say Anything, and Beldar Blog, Talk Left, and Slate. Many of these bloggers laud the arrest of Miller and even those who don't, rightfully point out that Miller is poorly casted as a rebel leading the righteous cause. She was the conduit for much of the Chalabi misinformation that has come to haunt the current administration. Even so, I feel that WE THE PEOPLE need access to all the information we can get our hands on. I would like to see the day when it was virtually impossible to make any information confidential.