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Time to disclose sources in U.S. press freedom case

By Claudia ParsonsThu Jun 30, 1:50 PM ET

Faced with jail for one of its reporters, Time magazine agreed on Thursday to hand over his notebooks to a grand jury probing the leak of a covert CIA operative's name, in a move that raises questions about press freedom in America.

The decision came just a day after a judge gave Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times a week before sentencing them for refusing to reveal their sources to the grand jury.

The move, which the New York Times said in a report appeared to be "without precedent in living memory," appeared to be over Cooper's objections.

Cooper was not available for comment but on Wednesday his lawyer said he was prepared to accept jail and would not testify. Cooper also said then he would rather Time did not hand over the papers, but conceded that "a corporation is different than a citizen (and) has different obligations."

The case is an important test of reporters' refusal to identify confidential sources when asked by a court -- something seen as inherent in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of the press.

New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said the newspaper was "deeply disappointed by Time Inc.'s decision" and he would support Miller. She was not available for comment but has repeatedly vowed to go to prison rather than testify.

The newspaper itself is not facing contempt charges apparently because it does not have any of the relevant documents but Time had faced a fine of $1,000 a day.

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a ruling that the two should be held in contempt of court. An appeals court had ruled they should be jailed for refusing to testify in the probe of who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003 to journalist Robert Novak, who identified her in a syndicated column. Plame's husband had criticized the Bush administration during the Iraq war.

"The Supreme Court has limited press freedom in ways that will have a chilling effect on our work and that may damage the free flow of information that is so necessary in a democratic society," Time Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine said.

But he said Time had decided to hand over the documents because the Constitution also "requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings."

Pearlstine rejected a suggestion by the Wall Street Journal that the decision was influenced by a clash between journalistic standards and the financial concerns of parent company Time Warner Inc.

"The suggestion that there was any corporate influence is ridiculous," Pearlstine said in an interview with Reuters, adding that he had complete editorial independence and had made his decision on the grounds that journalists are no more above the law than anybody else.

"Once the Supreme Court had spoken ... we had no choice but to adhere to the law," he said. Pearlstine said he believed the decision would remove the need for Cooper to testify "and certainly removes any justification for incarceration."

Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat engaged by the Bush administration to investigate whether Iraq had sought nuclear weapons, accused the White House of being responsible for the leak. He said officials did so because Wilson had publicly disputed a claim by President Bush about Iraq's attempts to secure such weapons.

Interviewed by CNN this week, Novak declined to say whether he had cooperated with investigators in the case.

William Safire wrote in The New York Times this week that Novak, known for writing opinion columns favorable to the Bush administration, owed fellow journalists an explanation for how his sources "managed to get the prosecutor off his back."

A hearing is set for July 6 to decide sentences against Miller, Cooper and Time.

(Additional reporting by Carol Vaporean)