I won’t be posting anything here until Friday because I am going down to Washington DC, there to engage in a debate with Walter Pincus of the Washington Post. Here’s the proposition that will be under discussion.
RESOLVED: That in a free society the people need to know what their government is doing, so the media should have discretion in deciding whether or not to publish “leaked” classified national security information.
Pincus will be making the case for the proposition, and I am supposed to make the case against. I hope that Pincus does not read my blog, because I am going to tip my hand here with a surprising admission.
I also favor the proposition. If that is how the issue is framed, there won’t be much debate. Given the huge amount of material the government classifies but which it shouldn’t classify, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Here, for example, is a link to a recently declassified photograph of a handgun. Why it was classified in the first place is a mystery. If Walter Pincus has published this picture, back when it was stamped secret, on the front page of his newspaper, I would not have been troubled in the least.
But that said, I also believe — and here is where I imagine I will part company with Pincus — that if the press is to enjoy discretion in this area, prosecutors should also enjoy discretion of their own.
They should remain free to investigate damaging leaks by subpoenaing journalists and compelling them, under pain of contempt citations, to disgorge their confidential sources. On some rarer occasions, when the press itself violates statutes governing the publication of classified information, journalists themselves should be vulnerable to prosecution.
I have made this case in COMMENTARY and in a series of articles (here and here and here and here) in the Weekly Standard. I hope Pincus hasn’t read any of these so I can ambush him with the arsenal of arguments I’ve been accumulating.