Martyrdoms Perks?

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Martyrdoms Perks?


According to Women's Wear Daily, longtime publishing executive Jason Epstein caused a flap in August when he remarked that his wife, Judith Miller of The New York Times, was having "the time of her life" in the Alexandria, Virginia, city jail, where she'd been incarcerated by a federal judge. Miller, as it happens, wouldn't be the first journalist to find unexpected pleasures in getting imprisoned for (in her phrase) the "civil disobedience" of refusing to identify a confidential source.

In years past, many reporters who declined to name names during congressional hearings were locked up in the U.S. Capitol--"no Bastille," Senate historian Donald A. Ritchie notes in Press Gallery (1991). During an 1848 standoff with the U.S. Senate, New York Herald reporter John Nugent "passed his captivity in comfort," Ritchie writes. "His paper published his [articles] under the dateline 'Custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms' and doubled his salary during his imprisonment." During an 1871 impasse, one senator harrumphed that two obstinately silent reporters, instead of being dispatched to the grimy city jail, "were furnished with two of the best rooms in the Capitol, where they fared sumptuously." In 1886, a Baltimore Sun reporter incarcerated for contempt of court (like Miller) got to serve most of his sentence at home, The New York Times reported, noting that "one appreciative friend sends him a bottle of champagne every day."

Then there's Marie Torte, TV columnist for the The New York Herald Tribune in the 1950s. Though all but forgotten today, Torre was the Judith Miller of her era, a front-page martyr to the First Amendment.

For Torre, the underlying dispute involved not CIA secrets but CBS ones. In a 1957 column, she quoted an unnamed CBS source on why Judy Garland's TV special kept getting postponed: "I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's because she thinks she's terribly fat. …

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