Expose the Left's Ian Schwartz, being a younger man and having lower blood pressure than me, went back and reviewed that Meet the Press segment in which Postie Dana Priest, class act all the way, mocked Bill Bennett with a comment about how some people don't want casinos to be legal. Perhaps turnabout is fair play since Bennett wants to throw Priest in jail.
MS. MITCHELL: Dana, let me point out that The Washington Post, your newspaper, was behind the others but also did publish this story. And a story you wrote last year disclosing the secret CIA prisons won the Pulitzer Prize, but it also led to William Bennett, sitting here, saying that three reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize—you for that story and Jim Risen and others for another story—were, “not worthy of an award but rather worthy of jail.” Dana, how do you plead?
MS. PRIEST: Well, it’s not a crime to publish classified information. And this is one of the things Mr. Bennett keeps telling people that it is. But, in fact, there are some narrow categories of information you can’t publish, certain signals, communications, intelligence, the names of covert operatives and nuclear secrets.
Now why isn’t it a crime? I mean, some people would like to make casino gambling a crime, but it is not a crime. Why isn’t it not a crime? Because the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the press so that they could perform a basic role in government oversight, and you can’t do that. Look at the criticism that the press got after Iraq that we did not do our job on WMD. And that was all in a classified arena....
Priest and Eric Lichtblau must have gone to the same Alice in Wonderland Rhetoric Academy, making a case and directly contradicting it before the separate logic trains they've dispatched collide. With Lichtblau and editor Bill Keller, the message is that they're performing a public service by revealing secret programs that aren't secret. With Priest, we're told it's not a crime to publish classified information, except in "narrow categories" that to my layman's eye cover some of what she's reported. Priest then proceeds to explain all over again why it's not a crime to publish classified information. Freedom of the press has an important role to play etc. Priest said most of this in Editor & Publisher this spring as noted in an NRO piece (the E&P story is archived).
Well, freedom of the press does play a rather important role in our society. But it's a society, yes? As in an interdependent social group? Where it would be nice if you didn't help kill me? The nation cannot survive a special class of citizens exempt from the moral and legal responsibility not to aid in our own destruction. So Congress can pass laws about national security that apply even to Higher Beings like Dana Priest.
Or, in the words of David Reinhard in the Oregonian via Powerline, Who Died and Made You President:
The issue is your decision to publish classified information that can only aid our enemies. The founders didn't give the media or unnamed sources a license to expose secret national security operations in wartime. They set up a Congress to pass laws against disclosing state secrets and an executive branch to conduct secret operations so the new nation could actually defend itself from enemies, foreign and domestic.
Reporters haven't been prosecuted, mainly for prudent reasons, but I am sure the Washington Post's attorneys understand this doesn't mean they can't be. Discussions on that issue include Gabriel Schoenfeld's Commentary piece, discussed at some length by James Piereson at Armavirumque. A shorter rundown on the law is here by NRO's Andrew McCarthy. And Patterico wrote a systematic piece on both the wisdom and the legal possibilities of prosecution, concluding here:
That’s the problem with the recent articles. High-level officials have provided concrete examples of real-world successes — successes that will probably save countless lives in the future. Against that, the articles have only the “concern” that the program might possibly violate some laws — despite the firm conclusion of government officials that it doesn’t.
If it turns out that the program was legal, and that it did save lives, and was properly classified, is the First Amendment really going to keep these journalists out of prison? And should it?
I have to say, if I were these reporters and editors, I’d be nervous.
Me? I'm no lawyer, and Patterico is. But to to retool an old expression, I say the Constitution is not a suicide pact.