An Inspiring Moment for a Press Freedom Fighter

Why we should treasure journalists who risk jail to safeguard First Amendment rights

An appeals court panel has ruled that two journalists need to disclose the identity of a White House source in the CIA leak case. The story below, about one of the reporters, Matt Cooper, first appeared in December 2004 as part of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person feature.

My kids asked me whom I most admired and one of the first names I mentioned is Matt Cooper. We didn't feel comfortable putting him on Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person list because he's a close friend, but I'd like to tell you about him.

He's not a soldier or someone who started an inner city charity or someone who triumphed over a horrific disease. He's a reporter, a member of that profession held in lower esteem than lawyers, HMO directors or criminals.

Matt is the White House correspondent for Time magazine. He's been sentenced to jail for refusing to divulge the name of a White House source in the Valerie Plame case. Plame was the wife of an administration critic, Joseph Wilson, and the Bush administration allegedly told reporters that she was also a CIA agent. Outing a CIA agent is a serious crime.

Matt wrote a story saying that the White House had leaked the Plame information. Now prosecutors want Matt and a few other reporters to reveal the name of the Bush administration official who told him this. Matt has declined, citing the supreme importance of protecting the confidentiality of sources.


You won't hear many liberal political activists marching for Matt's release because they're annoyed that he would protect a Bush administration miscreant. After all, if Matt had spilled the beans, he might have harmed Bush's re-election prospects. And you won't hear many conservatives championing Matt's cause because, well, he's a member of the noxious liberal media establishment--even when he's consigning himself to jail by protecting a Bush administration official.

Matt has a wife and young child. It's not a terribly convenient time for him to go to jail--and perhaps there'll be some last minute reprieve or way of avoiding prison. I hope so.

I have to say, having known Matt back in college, I would not have put "Most Likely to Go to Jail for Principle" under his college yearbook photo. He just wasn't a protesting type. He owned no dashikis, couldn't pronounce El Salvador with the proper Spanish accent and knew few verses to "Blowin' in the Wind." Whenever I want to humiliate him, I point out that he actually had a habit of wearing bow ties freshman year. (Sorry, Matt.)

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