When Norman Pearlstine—as
editor in chief of Time Inc.—agreed to give prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald a
reporter’s notes of a conversation with a “confidential source,” he was
vilified for betraying the freedom of the press. But in this hard-hitting inside
story, Pearlstine shows that “Plamegate” was not the clear case it seemed to be
and that confidentiality has become a weapon in the White House’s war on the
press—a war fought with the unwitting complicity of the press itself.
Watergate and the publication
of the Pentagon Papers are the benchmark incidents of government malfeasance
exposed by a fearless press. But as Pearlstine explains with great clarity and
brio, the press’ hunger for a new Watergate has made reporters vulnerable to
officials who use confidentiality to get their message out, even if it means
leaking state secrets and breaking the law. Prosecutors appointed to
investigate the government have investigated the press instead; news
organizations such as the New
York Times have defended
the principle of confidentiality at all costs—implicitly putting themselves
above the law. Meanwhile, the use of unnamed sources has become common in
everything from celebrity weeklies to the so-called papers of record.
What is to be done?
Pearlstine calls on Congress to pass a federal shield law protecting
journalists from the needless intrusions of government; at the same time, he
calls on the press to name its sources whenever possible. Off the Record is a powerful argument, with the vividness and
narrative drive of the best long-form journalism. It is sure to spark
controversy among the people who run the government—and among the people who
tell their stories. Download and start listening now!