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Judge rules on professional journalism

An American judge ruled [on 7 October 2004] that Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times, should tell the court who gave her the information that she was collecting for a newspaper story that she was writing.

Contempt

Cooper, Miller, Plame, Novak, Bush and Rove....

The ruling is one of several recent court decisions in the United States on the same matter in which the court's finding was the same.

This is not exactly an anti-Constitutional ruling. After all, the Freedom of the Press does not guarantee that a writer will never have to testify in court. A court of law often compels people to speak when they'd rather not. And there is no formal arrangement such as "professional confidentiality" which is traditional for a priest, lawyer, or medical doctor. After all, what is a professional journalist anyway — and where would you draw the line?

But, if a reporter cannot promise anonymity to a source of information, it could be difficult for her to practice professional journalism. Without the ability to promise discretion, the reporter's kit is deprived of a primary tool.

In October 2004, a federal judge held reporter Judith Miller in contempt of court. She had refused to expose a source—for a story she had not written. [Not that an unfinished story should be more protected than a finished one; but the detail does make a stark image.]

The judge, Thomas F. Hogan, of US District Court in Washington, said "We have a classic confrontation between the freedom of the press and the right of the government to investigate criminal activity before a grand jury."

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