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.)
Matt isn't the only reporter currently taking such a courageous stand. Jim Taricani has been sentenced to jail in Rhode Island for refusing to divulge the source that helped him break a corruption scandal. Judith Miller of The New York Times is also declining to talk.
For those of you who think that because reporters have hidden biases (and they do), there's no difference between a professional journalist and a talk radio show host or an opinion blogger--ask yourself this: Would Rush Limbaugh have gone to jail if it meant protecting Bill Clinton? Would Michael Moore go to jail if it meant protecting Donald Rumsfeld?
In his keynote speech at the Republican convention, Senator Zell Miller got a huge ovation by declaring, "It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press." That's wrong. It's both.
Senator Miller also lumped reporters together with "agitators" and flag burners. It may get cheers to describe reporters as villains (and plenty of reporters do shameful things). But it is also reporters, not merely soldiers, who help insure that soldiers go into battle with weapons that work or appropriate battle armor by holding government officials and contractors accountable. It is also foreign reporters, not merely soldiers, who will risk their lives to preserve the democracy that our soldiers are now fighting to obtain in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I'm sorry, Zell, but reporters like Matt are freedom fighters too.
Matt, you're a great American, and I'm proud to count you among my friends.