- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

Former CNN executive Walter Issacson yesterday told a House intelligence panel that journalists are cautious before reporting classified information and do not threaten national security.

“It is this type of freedom that we are fighting for in Iraq,” Mr. Issacson said during a rare public hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “In stopping such stories you are stifling the debate.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, openly agitated with Mr. Issacson, countered that organizations such as CNN are run by for-profit corporations whose commercial interests may outweigh their commitment to public service.

“At the end of the day, you’re trying to get high circulation numbers,” Mr. Rogers said.

Mr. Issacson was one of four media experts to address the panel, which has met privately twice to discuss the legalities surrounding the publication of classified information.

Two of the experts argued for legal punishment for reporters who damage national security through their leaks.

Chapman University School of Law professor John Eastman said so-called “whistleblowers” should be subjected to the same legal checks as those applied to ordinary Americans. Otherwise, government employees could leak any classified information they saw fit.

“The devastating consequences to our national security, and also to individual privacy, of such a flawed interpretation should be manifest,” Mr. Eastman said.

Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said he is concerned about reporters understanding existing laws and the impact their actions may have on national security.

But Mr. Hoekstra said he was not ready to advocate criminal punishment for publication of any classified information.

George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley called for more legal protections for reporters, citing a “growing threat against the media, particularly by this administration.”

Ranking committee Democrat Jane Harman of California criticized the Bush administration for itself leaking, or declassifying information.

“If leaks are going to be decried, there can’t be a double-standard,” Mrs. Harman said.

“I never want the press to stop shining a light on our government,” she said.

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