As a rule, we at Time Inc., publisher of this and many other magazines, believe that we should report the news instead of making it. We also believe in the rule of law, and we do not believe journalists, ours or anyone else's, should be held above it.
Sometimes, however, staying out of the news becomes impossible. And sometimes seeking a clarification of our nation's law from its highest court becomes an imperative. We find ourselves in just such a position with TIME magazine and its White House correspondent Matthew Cooper, both of whom have come under extraordinary government pressure to cooperate in an investigation in ways that we believe are unwarranted and potentially damaging to the free flow of information that leads to accountability in our democracy. As this controversy unfolds, we want you to understand the story behind that story.
You may be aware that Cooper, along with Judith Miller of the New York Times, faces the very real possibility of going to jail for refusing to disclose confidential sources to a federal grand jury investigating who revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson. Ironically, neither Cooper nor Miller actually outed Plame. That revelation was made almost two years ago by syndicated columnist Robert Novak commenting on Wilson's allegations that the Bush Administration, which had sent him to Niger to investigate claims of Iraq's attempt to buy weapons-grade uranium there, had ignored his finding that there was no credible evidence of such an attempt. Novak said "two senior Administration officials" had told him the CIA had dispatched Wilson at the suggestion of his wife, whom Novak revealed as Plame, "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."
After Novak's revelation, TIME's Cooper co-authored an article on the magazine's website, saying "some government officials" had told him basically the same thing, and the piece went on to suggest potential misconduct by those officials, who were perhaps seeking to discredit Wilson.
After some uproar, the Department of Justice appointed a special counsel to determine whether those who leaked Plame's role and her name violated a federal law barring the unauthorized disclosure of a covert operative's identity. The special counsel impaneled a federal grand jury and subpoenaed Cooper and Time Inc., demanding that we disclose our sources. When we declined to do so, a federal district judge in Washington held Cooper and us in contempt, relying on secret evidence submitted by the prosecutor. The judge ordered that Cooper be jailed for up to 18 months and that Time Inc. be fined $1,000 a day until we complied with the subpoenas and revealed our confidential sources. The district court's decision was upheld on appeal, with two of the three judges noting that this case presented important questions that could be resolved only by the Supreme Court.