THE BLOG
07/01/2005 09:06 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Here's What's Wrong With Norman Pearlstein's "Not Above the Law" Argument

So Time Inc's Norman Pearlstein says he will turn over Matthew Cooper's notes, because Time magazine is "not above the law."

C'mon.

Being "above the law" would mean not doing what the law specified -- and refusing to accept any of the consequences for that decision. To use the most famous historical example, it would have meant Richard Nixon's refusing to turn over the Watergate tapes in 1974 -- and refusing to acknowledge any penalty or consequence for that defiance.

Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, and the New York Times have been saying something completely different. They have been saying that there is a conflict between what the law asks and what their professional values allow them to do. Therefore they will take the consequences. They will go to jail. They will pay the fines. They will be like the Quakers who refused military induction, knowing that the refusal would come at a cost. Henry David Thoreau had a few words to say on this subject long ago.

They are not placing themselves above the law. They are saying that certain values matter more to them than doing what the law now (outrageously, in my view) asks them to do. Norman Pearlstein is a smart man. Can he really have missed this point? Or is he acknowledging that another set of values have come to count for more, in large-scale corporate-owned journalism?