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The American Way

New York Times journalist Judith Miller arrives at Federal Court in Washington Wednesday July 6, 2005. Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper face jail for contempt of court for refusing to divulge their sources who identified Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.
This column was written by CBS Evening News Anchor and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.
By now you know that New York Times reporter Judy Miller is in jail because she won't tell the government who she'd been talking to about the now-famous story she never wrote, the sorry episode of an anonymous government official who tried to smear an administration critic by revealing his wife was an undercover spy.

This may not be the best case to argue for protecting sources, for sure it seems to involve very few angels. But this is not about these people. It is about a larger principle.

What I find most offensive is this government claim that Judy Miller considered herself above the law.

If that were true, she would have tried to escape. She recognized the authority of the court and went to jail just as Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Americans before her went to jail when they thought a law was wrong.

This is a very American story. Does anyone seriously believe we would be hearing and reading about this in a dictatorship? In a totalitarian society, the government alone decides what is news. In our democracy, the press provides a second source of information and then we, the people, decide which version to believe.

Judy Miller went to jail to protect that principle. She knew we'd never get the full story if the people reporters talked to believe they might be sold out to the government. We don't even know what the prosecutor wants from Judy Miller. He won't say. All we know is that he told a court we can't have 50,000 journalists making decisions about whether to reveal sources. Sorry, Mr. Prosecutor, but in America, we can. It's the American way.

Hang in there, Judy.

By Bob Schieffer