The American Society of Newspaper Editors is among the signatories of a petition supporting jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller — or Inmate No. 45570083 in the Alexandria Detention Center, as she is now known.
The press organization joins the Newspaper Guild, the Virginia Press Association, the Association of Capitol Reporters & Editors, the American Federation of Television & Radio Actors and nearly 3,000 individuals who laud Mrs. Miller’s decision not to disclose confidential sources in the Valerie Plame matter.
The online petition, which was organized by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, states: “Journalists are not above the law, but must be independent and free from government control if they are to effectively serve as government watchdogs.”
The Virginia-based nonprofit was founded in 1970 by a core group of nine journalists — including Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and CBS’ Mike Wallace — who became galvanized after New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell was ordered to tell a federal grand jury his sources inside the Black Panther organization.
The group has wrestled with First Amendment issues ever since. To add piquancy, the Miller petition includes a clock ticking off to the second the reporter’s jail time.
Mrs. Miller’s incarceration was not lost on Time magazine writer Matt Cooper, who opted to obey a federal judge’s order and divulge that the source who disclosed the former CIA operative’s identity was White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
“Today, we should all remember, is Judith Miller’s eighth day in jail. And the sooner this grand jury recesses, the sooner she can get home,” Mr. Cooper said yesterday after providing two hours of testimony before a grand jury in the Plame case.
Copious commentaries this week have offered Mrs. Miller support, some of it dramatic. New York Times colleague Frank Rich declared she was in “shackles” and the situation was “worse than Watergate.” The paper described Mrs. Miller’s jailing as “a proud but awful moment.”
CBS’ Bob Schieffer equated the reporter with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, while a Dallas Morning News opinion piece praised her “ardor.”
Mrs. Miller was “standing for a vital principle,” the Chicago Sun-Times said.
Not all journalists are rushing to her cause, however.
The Congressional Quarterly has forbidden staffers to sign the petition in the name of “neutrality and disengagement.” Chicago Tribune writer Steve Chapman, meanwhile, accused both Mrs. Miller and Mr. Cooper of “behaving irresponsibly.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks dryly categorized the unfolding events as “The Judy Miller Media Hug-Fest,” adding, “There’s nothing like a brief stint in a maximum-security prison to restore your old luster.”
Meanwhile, 69 percent of Americans support journalists’ right to confidentiality of sources and 74 percent approve of their “watchdog” role, according to a poll of 1,003 adults released June 28 by the American Journalism Review. About 65 percent say that falsifying news stories is a widespread problem in journalism, while 64 percent said there is bias in the press.