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Confidential Sources on Trial
BY AISHA LABI L'96
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It had been nearly 40 years since Norman Pearlstine L'67 graduated from Penn Law School. He had traveled the world and held the reins of some of the most storied institutions in American journalism, including Time Inc. and The Wall Street Journal. In all that time the law had never played a prominent role in Pearlstine's career. Then again, never had he faced a professional quandary like the one he confronted last year, when He became a central figure in an inquiry following the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

In what he calls the “most difficult decision” of his professional life, it fell to Pearlstine, as editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to choose whether to comply with an order issued by Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the Federal District Court in Washington. Pearlstine's decision to turn over interview notes of Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who had spoken to presidential aide Karl Rove and been ordered to testify before a federal grand jury investigating Plame's unmasking, was controversial and immediately became front-page news. Many journalists, fellow editors, and media law experts lambasted the move, and several questioned whether Pearlstine had jettisoned his journalistic principles to appease his corporate bosses.

Pearlstine, a Philadelphia native, dismisses the notion that he was motivated by anything but respect for the rule of law and his understanding of the competing issues at stake, an understanding that he says he reached only after extensive reading, consultation with experts, and personal struggle. “I knew that many of the people I most respected in journalism, including some role models and a number of very successful and respected First Amendment lawyers, would disagree with me,” he says.
 
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