On one hand, many members of the public -- especially liberals who ought to be staunch defenders of the Bill of Rights -- seem unable or unwilling to grasp the idea that a matter of fundamental principle might be at stake, even in the murky and seemingly bottomless waters of the Miller-Plame-Rove affair. Compelling a reporter to reveal his or her sources to the police turns that reporter into a police agent, and that's not acceptable, even in unsavory circumstances like these. No reporter can be expected to check out the legality or ethics or motivations of all sources in advance. All sorts of surprising people talk to reporters when they probably shouldn't, for all sorts of personal and political and psychological reasons. If journalists can only receive confidential information from the saintly and the pure of heart, the entire enterprise might as well become "The View."In a sense, O'Heihr is right: A principle is at stake here, and an important one. I'm the son of a journalist, and remember being told late one night not to worry if the police came by to take my father away, because the babysitter would be by. Seriously - I wasn't to worry that my father was going to jail, because he'd called the sitter. Okay, my father wasn't always the most perceptive parent.
However, my father was willing to go to jail over one of his stories, and he had used an anonymous source who had given him information that was restricted. (Without going in to the details, let me just say that the story is one most Canadian families would know, and one that was absolutely worth my father going to jail if that was necesary for the story being told.) But this is exactly the point - this was a story that a) needed to be told, and b) could only be told by using an anonymous source, or not at all.
The case of Plamegate and Judy Miller is almost the exact opposite - leaking a CIA agent's name was totally unnecessary and unethical (not to mention illegal) and should not have been published, certainly not while giving the traitor anonymity. It's hard to imagine in this day when hardly a single story is written without an anonymous source, but this is a special privilege, not a blanket right. And it's never absolute.
If journalists want the protection of "principles" than they have to live up to them. It's doesn't get any simpler than that.