Media to pay over $1 million in damages to Wen Ho Lee

For its part in making the (fabricated) public case for Wen Ho Lee's treason charges, The NY Times, AP, the LA Times, WaPo, and ABC will pay the scientist $750k plus legal fees, totaling nearly $1 million themselves.

Eric Bohlert who says that we should "feel free to call it hush money," writes that the settlement "sprang from Lee's accusation that the government and the press had joined forces in 1999 to portray Lee as a treasonous mastermind."

Which they undoubtedly did, either wittingly or un. They took the word of one Notra Trulock, a hardcore Republican peddling the story of a Chinese spy just as the GOP was attempting to tar Clinton with rumors of weapons sales to the Chinese.

1+1, people.

Some, like Jane Kirtley, former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, think this is a dangerous precedent that, in the words of Josh Gerstein, "could embolden others aggrieved by government leaks and lead to more litigation involving the press."

I guess I wonder why it isn't also a just case that prevents reporters and editors from publishing anything a source tells them to.

The press is an indispensable check on the power of government. It relies on anonymous sources to do its job. Insiders fearful of reprimand or retaliation must feel safe or the whole system falls.

On the other hand, when a source feeds deliberately false information the system is abused and risks its credibility. Like these days, for example. Why did Judith Miller refuse to burn her source? Kirtley is against revealing sources who abuse the press for partisan political gain.

The Times and others didn't verify the story, using caution when unreliable partisans spun tales against their enemies, and those who spun them clearly knew that the press's reluctance to burn a source would protect them.

Wen Ho Lee spent 278 days in solitary confinement.

There's got to be a better way. As Kirtley herself wrote on AlterNet several years back referring to the Pentagon's penchant for using the press as a propaganda tool. Replace the Pentagon with the Republicans and the sentiment sticks (emphasis mine):


experience has shown that the military, given the opportunity, will do everything possible to use the media as instruments of propaganda, to shape public opinion and to garner support. This is perfectly understandable, but it is inimical to a free press and a free people. It is up to the press to resist, and it must. So, by all means, agree to abide by reasonable "ground rules" if you can do so without compromising your journalistic integrity. But be wary of accepting facilities or support from the military. Recognize the risks inherent in relying on the Pentagon's good offices as your means of covering conflicts. And make it abundantly clear to your readers and viewers when you are denied the opportunity to cover a story in the way that you see fit and that they would expect.
"Reasonable 'ground rules'"... without compromising your journalistic integrity." Sounds good. (HuffPost)

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