The Star Tribune publishes an editorial by Dan Cohen, the man they back stabbed in 1982 by promising to keep his identity as a source on a politically charged story confidential, then according to Cohen, publishing his name and picture the very next day:
In my case, this very paper kept its promise in 1982 to me as an anonymous source for as long as it took to publish the next day's newspaper. Not only did the paper publish my name and photo on the front page, it continued to revile me with editorial cartoons showing me emerging from a garbage can, and hostile articles published as long as a month after the incident.
Cohen's role as a confidential source was anything but pristine. In his position as a Republican political operative, he revealed information about DFL candidate for Lt. Governor Marlene Johnson's petty criminal record from decades previous (case summary here). But Cohen's contention (one supported by the US Supreme Court) was that the press in not immune to laws that govern all citizens. And if a promise, an oral contract, is made, there are consequences for breaking it.
Cohen's editorial centers on the hypocrisy of the press, contrasting his case with the press's overwhelming support of Judith Miller and her jailing over her refusal to divulge the identity of confidential sources regarding the Valerie Plame affair. (A case where the principals motives may be equally as sleazy as Cohen?s - that is the nature of most confidential source information).
Here's how the media establishment reacted to the Star Tribune?s violation of confidential sources back then:
The press circled its wagons to defend this paper and its codefendant. Briefs were filed on behalf of the defendants by Advance Publications, the American Newspaper Publishers Association, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Associated Press, the Copley Press, the Gannett Co., the Newsletter Association, the Times Mirror Co., and of course, the New York Times. No briefs, other than our own, were filed on my behalf.
But it all had a happy ending.
Despite all the heavy artillery, we won the case. Cohen v. Cowles Media, 501 U.S. 603 (1991) is a landmark of First Amendment law.
The lesson learned, according to Cohen, which bears remembrance in all press affairs:
What this proves to me is that media elites are not interested in protecting anonymous sources. They are interested solely in protecting themselves -- and their own power. Anything or anybody that impedes that objective is either opposed or ignored.