Earlier this week, Bill Bennett took some heat for saying that several of the journalists who won Pulitzers this year should go to jail. Today on CNN, Bennett put his remarks into the context of the news that a CIA officer has been fired for leaking and possibly faces prosecution:
BENNETT: The situation we have now is that Dana Priest has won the Pulitzer Prize. The guy who leaked to her has been fired from the CIA and may be subject to a prosecution. He gets prosecution, fired from the CIA, she gets the Pulitzer Prize. I think there’s something a little wrong with that.
Blitzer was horrified:
BLITZER: What Bill is suggesting, as a reporter, is very very dangerous, very slippery…
TORIE CLARKE: You would look good in horizontal stripes.
BLITZER: You used to be the press spokesperson over at the Pentagon. Do you agree with those comments?
CLARKE: I hesitate to disagree with him, because he’s so smart, and I appreciate the seriousness with which he treats this, but I’ve always thought there should be more emphasis in these matters on the people in government who sign papers saying, “I will never reveal classified information. I take these responsibilities seriously,” etc., and then they do it. I wish there was more emphasis on that side of the fence.
While I agree more with Clarke than Bennett, I think Blitzer’s knee-jerk outrage was a little ridiculous. Take his response to Clarke:
BLITZER: But these reporters for the New York Times and the Washington Post never signed any confidentiality agreements with the government. They’re just reporters out there trying to do their job.
Not only did Blitzer miss the point — which, Bennett reminded him, is that “Reporters have to obey the law as well” — he also appeared to be incapable of even considering Bennett’s argument with an open mind. I’ve seen many journalists immediately adopt this defensive stance when they discuss the issue of reporters and leaks, and it doesn’t speak well of their ability to cover their own industry in a fair-minded way.