"Free Speech is Bigger than WikiLeaks"
I have a lot of disagreements with things Richard Cohen says in his column on WikiLeaks, but in this case that’s actually what makes his defense of the core principles of a free press so important:
The WikiLeaks brouhaha will pass. Diplomats will once again be indiscreet at cocktail parties and rat out one another in the same way some people marry repeatedly, each time forever. The only thing worse than indiscretion is efforts to punish the miscreants by eroding the core constitutional right to publish all but the most obvious and blatant national security secrets. The government has to get better at keeping secrets. Muzzle the leakers – but not the press.
There’s the rub. I have mixed feelings about a lot of different aspects of this, but there are two key points. One is that the leaker here (presumably Bradley Manning, but that’s not yet been proven in a court of law) has broken the law and needs to be punished. The other is that the ability to republish leaked secrets is integral to the operation of a free press. Creating a new standard of harassing not leakers, but the publishers of leaks, is a very dangerous precedent whose implications go far beyond whatever you may think of the particular circumstances.