Time Magazine’s White House correspondent Matt Cooper said he is still trying to find the right words to explain to his six-year-old son that “daddy might not be coming home for a while.”
In a talk at the Law School Tuesday evening, Cooper explained the details of a case that could land him behind bars. Last month a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that Cooper could face time in prison for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential government source who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. Judith Miller of The New York Times is also being prosecuted for refusing to comply with subpoenas, and the controversy surrounding the case has sparked a debate about the nature of journalistic privilege in regard to the confidentiality of sources, Cooper said.
“I think protecting sources of information ensures the free flow of information,” Cooper said. “I do think [responding to the subpoena would be] kind of bad for the country, I know it would certainly be bad for my own journalistic reputation. It would have an emboldening effect on prosecutors.”
Cooper said he may face sentencing this week unless he obtains a stay. When asked about the prospect of serving prison time, Cooper said he would rather go to prison than break the confidentiality of his source.
“I try not to think about it,” Cooper said. “I mean, it’s prison, but I’m prepared to do it. The alternative of breaking a confidential source is so onerous.”
Cooper said he found the case proceedings and how it has been enshrouded in secrecy to be almost comic.
“Lots of the evidence of the case … is being kept sealed by the courts,” Cooper said. “It’s one of the ironies of this case that Judith Miller and I are being denied this information even though we’ve shown that we’re pretty good for keeping secrets.”
After Cooper briefly explained the background of the case, he spent the rest of the talk answering questions from the audience.
In response to one question, Cooper said journalists should approach federal shielding laws protecting journalists from subpoenas with humility.
“Journalists need to be humble when asking for privileges,” Cooper said. “We’re basically asking for exemption from the law. We’re asking for something farmers, businessmen don’t have … We’re asking for a big thing; it would behoove a journalist to ask for it with humility rather than arrogance.”
Some audience members expressed dismay at the lack of on-campus and national interest in Cooper’s case. Around 50 students and faculty were in attendance, and there were empty seats in the room where Cooper spoke.
“We got here early expecting the room to be crowded,” professor of psychiatry and psychology Sidney Blatt said. “I find the apathy in this community disheartening.”
Other students agreed, saying it was symptomatic of political apathy on the part of the general public.
“[It was] very surprising how few people showed up to hear a central figure in a huge public controversy,” Rudy Kleysteuber LAW ’07 said. “It points to apathy among citizens regarding manipulation of the press as a tool to achieve political ends.”