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A CHILL FOR WHISTLE-BLOWERS



Published: Tue, September 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: Reporters don't take promises of confidentiality lightly. A complex story often hinges on tips from insiders. And insiders, fearful of retribution, will sometimes talk to reporters only on the condition that their names not be used. Breaking such a promise can jeopardize the source's job or worse. It also casts a chill over others who may be thinking about blowing the whistle.

So consider the effect that the Justice Department's subpoena of an Associated Press reporter's home telephone records will have on whistle-blowers, the press and the public that depends on both for information.

Reporter John Solomon quoted unidentified law enforcement officials in a story last spring about a conversation recorded by a government wiretap of a U.S. senator being investigated. The Justice Department subpoenaed Solomon's phone records. Three months later, it got around to notifying him of the subpoena.

Wrong move: Law enforcement officials can be prosecuted for disclosing the contents of a wiretap. But the Justice Department was absolutely wrong to turn to a reporter's phone records to find the leak.

That was hashed out 30 years ago when the Nixon Justice Department tried to subpoena journalists' testimony and notes.

Under guidelines established then, the Justice Department must first exhaust all alternatives for finding whatever information it is seeking before subpoenaing a reporter or his records. Even then, it must notify the reporter in advance to give him the chance to contest the subpoena in court. That this Justice Department did neither sends a threatening message to others who have information they think the public should know.

Recalling such incidences as Attorney General John Ashcroft's efforts to prevent interviews with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh before his execution, free-press advocates worry that this haste to subpoena reflects an emerging pattern of contempt for journalists' role. If that's indeed the case, Americans have reason to worry.

There are places in the world where a government can do what it wants without fear of public scrutiny, where whistle-blowers know better than to talk to reporters. The United States is not such a country because it has a 1st Amendment guarantee of a free and independent press. What about that does the Justice Department fail to understand?

DON'T LIMIT SPACE STATION POTENTIAL

Orlando Sentinel: Critics of the international space station rarely miss an opportunity to take rhetorical shots at that masterpiece of technology, under construction by intrepid astronauts in the heavens. And they'll surely complain about the space station's recent cost overruns.

But as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- and an all-star advisory panel that the agency has named to help control costs -- search for solutions, Americans shouldn't take their eyes off the prize: getting the space station fully operational.

Extra costs and other glitches in the space-station program can and should be addressed, with an eye toward preventing such problems in the future. But people can't afford to give up on the space station itself, as the critics wish.

Final frontier: America isn't in space and building the space station because those endeavors are easy. This nation delves into the final frontier, to paraphrase roughly former President John F. Kennedy, because it's hard. Setbacks are part of the game.

But so are gains. For example, along the way, Americans find inspiration in space exploits.

More importantly, they receive benefits from research done in space and from applications on Earth. In addition, the space station will assist in the effort to return to the moon and in future manned missions to Mars.

Plainly, the space station deserves every encouragement.

That said, there's the immediate matter of cost overruns, most recently to the tune of $4 billion. The Bush administration, perhaps in an attempt to whip the program into line, has said it won't agree to any more budget increases. The White House appears to have good intentions here. No government program should get away with out-of-control spending.

But some flexibility is warranted. After all, the United States works on the space station with other nations. If some of them fail to deliver, as has happened in the past, Americans can't simply allow the space-station project to collapse. Too much is at stake.




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