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Leopold and Lauria

We've talked a bit about the Jason Leopold saga here on Public Eye in the past, and the Washington Post yesterday printed a somewhat strange piece that gives us a slightly better idea of how his now-discredited scoop -- claiming Karl Rove would be indicted -- came to pass.

According to journalist Joe Lauria, former Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo (who now works for Rove) says someone used Lauria's name and gave a cell phone number similar to Lauria's in two phone calls to Corallo that took place just before Leopold's story broke. The phone calls took place not long after Lauria had met Leopold and given him his phone number. Lauria, connecting the dots, writes that Leopold's "aggressive disregard for the rules ended up embroiling me in a bizarre escapade." Leopold denies using Lauria's name to work sources, but Lauria doesn't buy it, noting that Leopold, in his memoir, admits lying to get stories.

I referred to the piece as strange because it seems, for lack of a better word, somewhat vindictive. Consider this: In the second paragraph, Lauria calls Leopold "a troubled young reporter with a history of drug addiction." In the next paragraph, he throws in a clause about Leopold's "drug abuse and a run-in with the law." The next graf: a reference to Leopold's "cocaine addiction." And in the following graf, the piece de résistance: "Leopold says he gets the same rush from breaking a news story that he did from snorting cocaine. To get coke, he lied, cheated and stole. To get his scoops, he has done much the same."

We get the point, Joe.

I understand that Lauria wanted to clear his name, but this seems a tad over the top. This is not a defense of Leopold, whom we have called on to name his sources, as he promised to do if his story turned out not to be true. He clearly seems unconcerned with journalistic ethics, to put it mildly. But I'm not sure that in a piece that mentions Leopold's drug use four times Lauria can plausibly claim the high road, though he does anyway in a conclusion lamenting the "narcissistic culture."

In any event, Leopold does raise one interesting point:

What value does journalism have if it exposes unethical behavior unethically? Leopold seems to assume, as does much of the public, that all journalists practice deception to land a story. But that's not true. I know dozens of reporters, but Leopold is only the second one I've known (the first did it privately) to admit to doing something illegal or unethical on the job.
Is it all right to lie to get a story? My first thought is that it is not. But what if, thanks to one little lie, you can expose something really important? Can you lie if it means getting the Watergate story, for example? One is inclined, in such a case, to wonder if the ends justify the means.

The problem with this idea is that you're playing with fire. When you've lied once, in a "justified" situation, it becomes harder to not lie the next time, regardless of the strength of your justification. And, as Leopold has learned all too well, if you are willing to lie to your sources, they have every reason to lie to you.

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