Deep Throat and Paul Dimoldenberg

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Deep Throat and Paul Dimoldenberg

Was Deep Throat different from the Intimigate (Valerie Plame) leakers? A case recently decided in the U.K. sheds some light.

Paul Dimoldenberg is a councillor in Westminster. The Conservatives have a majority on the council, but Dimoldenberg is a member of the Labour Party. In the 1980s, Dame Shirley Porter, a Conservative, was the leader of the council. She was enveloped by scandal and ultimately ordered to pay the council £27 million, which eventually grew to £42 million including interest. She didn't pay and told the court that she had assets of only £300,000.

Although she really had a fortune worth (apparently) around £70 million, her Conservative ex-colleagues on the council didn't seem terribly interested in going after her. Dimoldenberg then leaked confidential council documents to a BBC reporter. The documents revealed the Conservative councillors' lethargy, and the ensuing news stories - claims Dimoldenberg - pressured them into belated action. The council eventually settled with Dame Shirley for £12.3 million (so much for her claim to be worth only £300,000).

Perhaps to make up for being so slow to bring Dame Shirley to justice, the council was much more prompt in going after another miscreant: Dimoldenberg. It reported him to an administrative body in charge of standards of conduct for public officials, charging him with breaking rules against disclosure of confidential documents. If the charges were upheld, Dimoldenberg would face possible suspension from the council or even a five-year ban on holding public office.

After a lengthy hearing, the panel found that Dimoldenberg did indeed violate the rules. But it imposed no punishment. Although the rules provide no exception for leaks in the public interest, the panel believed that Dimoldenberg didn't deserve to be punished, and its chairman publicly called for Parliament to consider adding a public interest defense.

What does this have to do with Deep Throat and the Intimigate leakers? Consider this part of the panel chairman's statement of the panel's decision.
No sanction should be imposed upon you. We noted in particular there was no financial gain or political kudos. Neither was there any damage caused to Westminster City Council in its recovery proceedings [against Dame Shirley].
No personal gain, either financial or political? Deep Throat passes that test; the Intimigate culprits almost surely do not, since the most logical inference is that the whole point of the leak was to gain political advantage by discrediting a person who was telling the truth about events that embarrassed the administration. No damage to legitimate government operations? A harder call; Nixon partisans have complained that Deep Throat hamstrung the administration by entangling it further and further in scandal, but it's hard to say that a president has a legitimate interest in concealing crimes committed by his aides. As for Intimigate, it's conceivable that outing Plame did meaningful damage to intelligence operations and perhaps even endangered the lives of some of our "assets." But skeptics have argued that in light of Plame's then-current assignment and the length of time since she'd really been out in the field, damage to ongoing operations is speculative. Of course, by the very nature of the situation, we can't know, or even reliably guess, at the truth, since most of the relevant information remains classified.

The larger point, however, is that we shouldn't accept uncritically the claims of First Amendment hawks and (much more cynically) right-wing partisans that revealing the Intimigate leakers' identities would undermine the press's ability to report on government. Perhaps, upon analysis, we might conclude that reporters should be able to offer confidentiality to any source and should have a near-absolute privilege against being forced to break confidentiality in court. But, conceptually, there is a difference between leaking secrets in order to stop wrongdoing and leaking secrets in order to hurt political enemies.

Maybe the lines are too hard to draw in practice, and maybe the law should be changed to cover the reporters in the Intimigate case. But it's much too facile to equate Karl Rove (hypothetically, of course) with people who have risked their careers and even their lives to expose public officials' crimes.

0 comments in Deep Throat and Paul Dimoldenberg

Post a Comment

 
Deep Throat and Paul Dimoldenberg | Demagogue Copyright © 2010