As has been covered to death, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was sent to jail after refusing (again) to name her source in the Plame affair. On the other hand, Time reporter Matthew Cooper avoided the same fate after his source released him from his promise of anonymity. I have always fancied myself a First Amendment activist- it was the reason I went to law school in the first place. But I have to wonder if their fealty to the freedom of the press is misguided in this case.
Their source(s)- it's not entirely clear if they have the same source- work inside the White House. The only obvious benefit in outing a deep cover operative was to embarass a high ranking American diplomat who criticized the Bush Administration. The source is a deep insider who apparently used the press to advance the faulty (fraudulent?) justification for war in Iraq. In fact, Lawrence O'Donnell announced last week that the source is Karl Rove (how he knows that is an open question). Rove, of course, is Dubya's brain- a Machivellian political strategist who would smear his own mother to gain a couple of percentage points- if it is Rove, it might as well have been the President himself.
Obviously, the press relies on whistleblowers and anonymous sources. The people in power have the power, after all. When the upper echelons of government cut corners (or worse), it is dangerous for some insiders to go on record and tattle. Recent events should bear this out. This case is different from Watergate, however, and maintaining anonymity only protects the wrongdoer.
Mark Felt, perhaps selfishly, used his promise of anonymity to bring down a crooked President. He pointed Woodward and Bernstein in the right direction, and they connected the dots. In this case, the promise of anonymity advances the cause of prevarication and deception. Someone criticized the President by name, so someone in White House hides behind the journalistic shield to bring down the critic. I don't know if it is Rove, but it is his style- after Bob Novak ran the column outing Valerie Plame, Rove called Chris Matthews and told him that she was "fair game." Attack the critic, and the criticism doesn't matter.
I applaud the journalists for standing tough in the face of incarceration. It takes guts and integrity to stick to your guns in those circumstances. This case is not the reason for the principle, however, and I wonder if it would have been gutsier to name names.