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  When to Give Up a Source
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Last EditedGuy  Jul 05, 2005 05:45pm
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MediaWeekly News Magazine - TIME Magazine
News DateTuesday, July 5, 2005 11:00:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionIn surrendering a reporter's notes, Time Inc.'s top editor says the rule of law trumps the promise of confidentiality. Where does journalism go from here?

For journalists, confidential sources can be as essential as ink. That's why so many were surprised last week when Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc., said he would reveal some confidential information about a big story. In a case involving TIME magazine White House correspondent Matthew Cooper, Pearlstine agreed to comply with a federal subpoena and surrender Cooper's notes and files relating to a story he had written that is part of an investigation into the disclosure of a CIA operative's identity. Time Inc. had appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, but when the court declined last week to hear the case, Pearlstine made the decision he calls "the most difficult I have made in more than 36 years in the news business."

Many in the media world quickly criticized the move as a capitulation to government pressure that could scare off future sources. "I can't think of a time," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "when a news organization has done something like this." Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said Time Inc.'s decision signals that sources--and reporters--will now have to worry about media companies in addition to government prosecutors. "How will sources believe that journalists can keep their word?" he asked. But others pointed out that Time Inc. had run out of venues to fight the case. "Time Inc. fought this as hard as anyone could, with great lawyers, at great expense," said Newton Minow, former FCC chairman and professor emeritus at Northwestern University School of Law. "Once that happens, you have to obey the law."
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