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American journalists have effectively been conscripted into the business of law enforcement as a result of the US Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal in the case of reporters Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine and Judith Miller of the New York Times.

The two had been ordered incarcerated for eighteen months by district judge Thomas Hogan on charges of civil contempt back in October, because they refused to cooperate in a grand jury investigation into the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.

Both reporters are suspected of having spoken with people in government who have information about the original source of the leak, who committed a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. They have refused to turn over their notes, citing guarantees of anonymity they gave to their sources.

Right-wing darling and incontinent Bush Administration booster Robert Novak is the reporter who originally published Plame's identity, but he has not been ordered to identify his sources, perhaps because he already ratted them out voluntarily.

Although Cooper's and Miller's work is secondary to Novak's original story, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, insists upon examining their notes. Cooper and Miller argued that the First Amendment protects them and their anonymous sources, which makes perfect sense, because it is impossible for the press to be free, as required by the Bill of Rights, if journalists cannot gather news of criminal activity without ratting out their sources.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's spinelessness in defending the First Amendment against government authoritarianism - the very situation for which it was crafted in the first place - Cooper and Miller will return to district court, where the judge will select the detention facility in which to punish them for doing their jobs.

Meanwhile, to all potential anonymous sources involved in official malfeasance or criminal activity, we have a simple closing message: "Federal agent! Freeze, Dirtbag!"

Man, we've been waiting ages to say that. ®

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