LEAKY BUSINESS: Panel of experts discuss recent CIA LEAK

Journalists, lawyers, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno discussed the implications of this summer’s CIA leak. The panel was hosted by the School of Communication on Nov. 24.

Journalism professor Tsitsi Wakhisi organized the event and invited the panel participants whom included NBC 6 senior correspondent Ike Seamans, The Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler, The Washington Post Miami Bureau Chief Manuel Roig-Franzia, and Reno.

The panel was moderated by Samuel Terilli of the School of Communication and Rick Vasquez of the Law School.

Terilli began the conversation by summarizing the CIA leak that began when newspaper columnist Robert Novak published a column on July 14 revealing the name of a CIA operative whom is married to retired diplomat Joseph Palmer.

Palmer had publicly criticized President Bush’s assertion in his State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein sought to purchase uranium from Africa. After the column was published, a partisan furor erupted in the Beltway about Novak’s motives for publishing the name of the CIA operative.

Panel members were asked their opinion about whether the Justice Department or a special prosecutor should investigate the case. This prompted a conversation about the nature of leaks and the roles journalists and their sources play in matters regarding national security.

Seamans told the panel that NBC news reporter Andrea Mitchell was offered the same information about the CIA operative as Novak was but Mitchell chose not to report on it.

Seamans agreed with Mitchell that there was no reason to reveal the name and that it was obvious that the White House wanted to hurt someone. With this new information, Vasquez challenged Novak’s claim that his column was not a deliberate leak by the White House to discredit a critic of President Bush.

“Reporters aren’t very smart, we have to be given a lot of information,” said Seamans, commenting on the number of news reports that begin with sources sharing confidential information.

In response, Roig-Franzia joked to the audience.

“God bless disgruntled employees,” he said.

When the journalists on the panel concurred that there was no overriding legal fear in the news media about publishing information like Novak did, Reno commented that there was a big difference in the access reporters have to information regarding the government in Florida thanks to the state’s liberal “Sunshine” law and the restrictions that are in place in Washington D.C.

“There is an irony in a government that is by the people and for the people when people aren’t able to get information about the government,” Reno said.

Horacio Sierra can be contacted at h.sierra@umiami.edu.