Media Rights and Wrongs | Letters | Chicago Reader

Media Rights and Wrongs 

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The story [Hot Type, June 16] was simple. The U.S. government and several news agencies decided to pay off Dr. Wen Ho Lee over $1.5 million for lawyers' fees and as a penalty for having published/leaked his name as a suspected Chinese spy at Los Alamos. I guess that's the going rate for destroying a world-class scientist's life and career.

The skew was simple too, summed up in this quote: "[The media companies . . . denied the Supreme Court an opportunity to issue some sort of draconian edict] reducing the media's right to protect sources to roughly zero."

How much exactly is "roughly zero" anyway? 0.000001? Too much? Too little?

My point: the media has long enjoyed the freedom of speech, but this quote is an example of the unbalanced skew of the news reporters reporting on themselves. Would the media like to scream fire in a crowded theater, print the unqualified lists of McCarthy suspects?

There is no law that states you can protect your sources or your reporters when the very publishing of information sensitive to national security is itself the violation of law, not to mention the public's trust.

No one in their right mind believes the media does not have enough rights. Just look at how tolerant the law is, with video cameras at a murder scene or with harassment cases involving paparazzi.

It is the lack of an autoimmune system in today's confessional media that is at the heart of unfairly and publicly accusing Dr. Ho of being guilty before there is even a case against him. It is now reported this man's committed no crime against the United States for the Chinese at Los Alamos. He essentially left some files in a conspicuous location.

Instead, I think the media and the U.S. government should be charged criminally for libel for destroying this scientist's life and his family name. This is the very definition of libel. The money is a fine remedy for civil matters, but there should be criminal charges down the line from the writer to the editor to media moguls, then to the U.S. government media mole, who was to be sure paid in full for his/her breach in ethics.

What if someone, John Q. G-man, leaked the name of all the snitches that made it into the witness-relocation program? Wouldn't there be consequences? If the snitches were given civil remedies, wouldn't John Q. G-man be tried in criminal court?

Freedom of speech should not mean you don't have to support what you say. And yes, when free speech becomes libel it becomes illegal. The media, though often without ethics, is not without legal restraint. Relating his name and image and not defending this action in court, simply paying the good doctor off, is not solely an act of the media's right to protect its sources; it is also an act of cowardice. It is a skew of our freedoms.

Mauricio Paniagua

Pilsen

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