While I think that there is in fact a lot of legal doubt in the furor over the “outing” of Victoria Plame, I don’t think that legalistic arguing, regardless of how correct, is going to carry the day. The fine details that make the legal case will simply get lost in the media frenzy.
Part of that is the partisan bias of the press, but probably a bigger factor is the egotism and self-image of the press. What bigger coup is there in journalism today than to bring down a US Presidency? Note that it’s not bringing out the facts or issues, but bringing down (through whatever means) the administration. Here again we see the divide between constructive and destructive criticism. A press corps that didn’t want to let the White House get away with shady activities would be constructive. The press corps that we have now, which longs to destroy the administration, is destructive. While the press partisanship moderated this during the Clinton years, it’s hard to deny that similar feeding frenzies arose over issues that seem trivial now. In some sense the press did well with Clinton because that administration was directly involved in unseemly manners from early on (just ask Billy Dale). The Bush administration, however, hasn’t really had anything stick to it. This issue, however, has the possibility of demonstrating true wrong doing on the part of administration officials, which is the real reason the press is so gung ho on it. If the press were actually concerned about national security then the journalist who actually know what happened would tell the public. Until that happens this is not something I’m going to track closely.
Meanwhile, of course, real stories of great importance, like how the Iraqi reconstruction money is being spent, go begging for investigation and column inches. Again, a press concerned about the nation or even the Iraqis would make that a priority, not a back burner matter. Big Media is covering the wrong issues for the wrong issues. How much longer can the press go on pretending to do so?