It is not every day in the U.S. that a journalist is imprisoned for a story she did not write about a crime that may not have been committed. But nothing about the case involving Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who was sent to jail last week for contempt of court, or TIME's Matthew Cooper, who avoided the same fate at the last minute, has been simple.
Judge Thomas Hogan jailed Miller for refusing to testify before a grand jury called by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is investigating whether senior Bush Administration sources cited by reporter Robert Novak in a column outing CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson broke a law that prohibits the deliberate revelation of an undercover agent's name. The case has gained intrigue because Novak hasn't said whether he has testified-- several other journalists have--and some believe that Fitzgerald's investigation has become so broad that he is also looking into perjury or obstruction-of-justice charges against one or more of the sources.
Miller, Cooper and Time Inc. (TIME'S parent company), which had been ordered to turn over files Cooper had used to co-author a Time.com story about the leaks, fought the order up to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case two weeks ago. Subsequently, Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc., surrendered the documents. Cooper was prepared to go to jail, but just before he was set to face the judge, his source released him from his pledge of confidentiality, freeing him to testify before the grand jury. And who was Cooper's source? A number of news organizations named Karl Rove, President Bush's senior political adviser. TIME'S editors have decided not to reveal the source at this time.
At the contempt hearing, Miller told Judge Hogan, "If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press." Hogan disagreed, saying this "is a case in which the information [Miller] was given and her potential use of it was a crime ... This is very different than a whistle-blower outing government misconduct." Hogan sent Miller to the Alexandria Detention Center in nearby Virginia, where she will remain for as long as four months, unless she agrees to testify.