Skip to main content

Journalist at center of leak probe criticizes Time boss

Reporter says probe cooperation could hamper newsgathering

Matthew Cooper: "I thought we were fighting for an important principle."


White House
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Matthew Cooper

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Time magazine reporter said Sunday his boss' decision to turn over his notes and e-mails to a grand jury could impair the magazine's ability to gather information.

The grand jury is investigating how the identity of a covert CIA operative was made public.

"That's possible, as a fallout from this decision," Time reporter Matthew Cooper told CNN's "Reliable Sources."

The situation that led Time Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine to hand over the information was "kind of an anomalous case, to say the least," Cooper said.

But he said it could nonetheless hinder Time correspondents' ability to persuade potential sources -- those seeking a guarantee of their identities would not be divulged -- to talk.

"This is one of the things I was concerned about when I argued for holding out, because I thought that there might be fallout like this," Cooper said, when told that two other Time correspondents had informed Pearlstine that sources told them they did not know if they could cooperate with the magazine's reporters in the future.

Cooper said reporters would work to find ways to shield their sources' identities from management, too. He predicted Time reporters "will take it upon themselves to put less in e-mail, you know, to put less in electronic form that the company owns and protect things better.

"Time will continue to rely on confidential sources," he said. "I think their wariness will ease with time -- at least I hope so."

Time, like CNN, is a component of the Time Warner media empire.

Cooper was a newly appointed White House correspondent for the news magazine in July 2003 when he began making calls about a New York Times opinion piece, written by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that questioned a piece of the intelligence cited to argue for the invasion of Iraq.

Wilson said he had been sent to Niger to determine whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from that country to make nuclear weapons. Claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction were the primary rationale for the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Wilson said he had reported back that he found the report unlikely. He added that he did not understand why the claim -- which the Bush administration later had to recant -- had nevertheless made its way into Bush's State of the Union speech.

Cooper called Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, the reporter said in editions of the magazine slated to hit newsstands Monday.

"I recall saying something like, 'I'm writing about Wilson,' before he interjected. 'Don't get too far out on Wilson,' he told me," Cooper said about his conversation with Rove.

Cooper said Rove then told him that Wilson's wife worked at the "agency" on "WMD," a reference to weapons of mass destruction, "and that she was responsible for sending Wilson."

Cooper said Sunday: "Before that conversation, I had never heard about anything about Joe Wilson's wife. After that conversation, I knew that she worked at the CIA."

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a federal crime, in some cases, to reveal the name of a covert U.S. operative.

Rove has said he did not identify Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, by name, and his lawyer has said Cooper's testimony "will not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or the grand jury."

In an e-mail to his boss at Time, Cooper wrote that his talk with Rove had been on "double super-secret background," a phrase that Cooper said Sunday had been intended to be a joke, inspired by the film "Animal House," in which a fraternity is placed on "double secret probation."

"'Super' was my own addition," said the reporter, who added that the conversation had, in fact, been on "deep background," which he understood to mean he could use the material, but could not quote it or say where he got it.

Cooper described his ultimately futile fight to keep his source's identity secret as "a weird two years," and said he thought Pearlstine had erred.

"I thought we were fighting for an important principle and I thought there would be a lot of fallout from handing over the notes," he said. "I think events have borne that out."

Cooper said he ultimately decided to testify before the grand jury only after he received permission from Rove releasing him of his obligation to maintain confidentiality.

Unlike Time, The New York Times has refused to buckle. Its correspondent Judith Miller -- who researched but never wrote a story on the topic -- is finishing her second week in an Alexandria, Virginia, jail.

The newspaper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said: "The next occasion that Matt Cooper is in talking to a confidential source of his and promises ... not to betray a person's identity, I can imagine that source saying, 'Sure, I trust Matt Cooper, but do I trust Time magazine?'"

Cooper said the situations "aren't entirely analogous." Miller was under subpoena; her newspaper, unlike Time magazine, was not.

Critics have argued that the magazine should have accepted the possibility of fines and the jailing of its reporter rather than break Cooper's word.

Pearlstine, who has said the decision to hand over the materials was his alone, has argued that even reporters should comply with the law. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to intervene in the case.

The decision's impact has been felt outside the covers of Time. Ken Herman, White House correspondent for Cox newspapers, told "Reliable Sources" that Pearlstine's move had made his job more difficult because sources have been more reluctant to talk on background.

"I'm hearing that from my colleagues not only at the White House, but who cover other things, that the rules have changed in the past couple of weeks," he said.

Corporate responsibility is different from a journalist's responsibility, Herman said. "Is this a healthy thing for journalism? I'll let other people make their calls on that, but it raises some issues."

Story Tools
Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.

© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines