Time magazine said Thursday that it would provide documents concerning the confidential sources of one of its reporters to a grand jury investigating the disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame.
In a statement, Norman Pearlstine, Time Inc's editor in chief, said: "The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments. That Time Inc strongly disagrees with the courts provides no immunity. The innumerable Supreme Court decisions in which even presidents have followed orders with which they strongly disagreed evidences that our nation lives by the rule of law and that none of us is above it."
On Monday, the US Supreme Court turned down appeals from the magazine, one of its reporters, Matthew Cooper, and a reporter for the New York Times, Judith Miller.
On Wednesday, Judge Thomas Hogan of the Federal District Court in Washington said he would order the reporters jailed for up to 120 days if they do not agree to testify before the grand jury in the meantime.
He also said that he would impose substantial fines on the magazine.
The decision by a major news organization to disclose the identities of its confidential sources appears to be without precedent in living memory.
In an interview on CNN, Pearlstine said the threat of fines played no role in the magazine's thinking.
"We are not above the law," he said.
The magazine made its decision over the objections of its reporter, Cooper.
The documents to be turned over include Cooper's notes. Pearlstine said that the magazine's move should make moot the threat of jail time for Cooper.
"We believe that our decision to provide the special prosecutor with the subpoenaed records obviates the need for Matt Cooper to testify and certainly removes any justification for incarceration," Pearlstine said in his statement.
It is less clear whether the magazine's decision will affect Miller. Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, said in a statement: "We are deeply disappointed by Time Inc's decision to deliver the subpoenaed records. We faced similar pressures in 1978 when both our reporter Myron Farber and The Times Co were held in contempt of court for refusing to provide the names of confidential sources. Mr. Farber served 40 days in jail and we were forced to pay significant fines.
"Our focus is now on our own reporter, Judith Miller, and in supporting her during this difficult time."
Hogan has scheduled another hearing for Wednesday to consider the reporters' fate. Until Time's decision complicated matters, it appeared that the reporters, both of whom have refused to testify, would be told when and where to report to jail at that hearing.
The case has its roots in an opinion article published in the Times on July 6, 2003. In it, Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat, criticized a statement made by President Bush in that year's State of the Union address about Iraq's efforts to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa. Wilson based his criticism on a trip he had taken to Africa for the CIA the previous year.
Eight days after Wilson's article was published, Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist, reported that "two senior administration officials" had told him that Wilson's wife, Plame, was "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."
Wilson has said the disclosure was payback for his criticism. Others have said that the disclosure put his criticism in context by suggesting that Wilson's trip was not a serious one but rather a nepotistic boondoggle.
Cooper's article about Plame appeared after the Novak column. Miller conducted interviews on the matter but did not publish an article.
Since Novak appears not to be facing jail time, he presumably supplied information to Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the case. It is not clear why that did not conclude the investigation. Fitzgerald and Novak have consistently declined to discuss the matter.
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