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Lies And Consequences

Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points

Liberal humorist Al Franken is out with a new book, "The Truth (with Jokes)," a sequel to his previous book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." The book is a serious (with laughs) lefty political analysis of the Bush campaign and administration.

But it might be the title that sells it. Franken has the same knack for a picking title as New York Times reporter-celeb Judy Miller whose book "Germs" about biological weapons and terrorism, just happened to hit the stands in the midst of the anthrax scare following 9/11.

Truth is at the heart of many of the legal, political and journalistic issues in the CIA leak investigation. As the speculation and spin reached a fever's pitch this week, a strange refrain started to creep into the conversation.

For some reason, the crime of perjury, of lying under oath, became a minor offense. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison test-drove some White House spin Sunday, as she tried to play down what kind of jeopardy administration officials might be facing.

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"I certainly hope," said the Texas Republican, "that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."

Columnist Nicholas Kristoff, who kicked off a chain reaction in 2003 when he wrote that it was "at the behest of Vice President Cheney's office" that an envoy was sent to Niger, this week labeled perjury a "mushier" kind of indictment.

The underlying assumption of those who say that "getting people" for lying and obstructing justice is merely criminalizing politics, is that lying and obstructing is what politics is all about. After spending a lifetime dealing with politics and politicians, I think that is an outrageous statement and a false assumption.

Politics is filled with honorable people who have chosen public service as a way to get things done for society. All politicians don't lie nor do all politicians lie under oath. Those who do deserve to pay the consequences.

The other area where "truth" has been central in this case is in journalism itself. Some of the more eyebrow-raising parts of the Judy Miller revelations in the New York Times were the methods she used to get at the truth.

One gambit was her conjecture that she might have written the name "Victoria Wilson" in her notebook as the name of Joe Wilson's wife as a way of trying to trick a source into confirming her name; as in "Oh no, Judy, that is VALERIE Wilson, not Victoria Wilson."

The more controversial Miller issue was about Scooter Libby's condition that she refer to him as a "former Hill staffer" so that people would not think his quotes were coming from the White House.

That set off alarm bells that Miller would have deceived her readers if she accepted that condition. But Miller later clarified that point, by saying she agreed to the subterfuge in order to get his information but was not planning to put that label in print. (And in fact, she did not.) She wrote that she was going to use his information as a way to get a second source before reporting it in the New York Times.

So, here is the question. Is it OK for a reporter to deceive sources to get the truth? And, how will these revelations affect the willingness of sources to talk to reporters — even those reporters who are willing to go to jail for awhile to protect their anonymity?

Honesty is still the only policy, for politicians and for journalists. Those who lie need to know there is a price to pay.

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