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Time Sources Chilled

Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstein told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing audience Wednesday that he had met with his Washington bureau last week and was shown e-mails from sources who said they no longer trusted the magazine.

Pearlstein was testifying in favor of a federal shield law (S 340, introduced by Senator Richard Lugar) that would establish a protection for reporters from federal subpoenas, with exceptions in the case of national security.

Time has been criticized for giving up notes of reporter Matt Cooper—who also testified at the hearing—after a Supreme Court denied its challenge of a subpoena of Miller over his reporting on the leak of the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame.

“We fought all the way to the Supreme Court and we lost,” he said, calling it “the toughest decision of my career and one I should never have had to make.”

“Accepting imprisonment and fines should not be the only way to protect sources,” he said. Although he also said that the fact that national security was involved factored into the company’s decision to give up Cooper’s notes.

In response to a question from Senator Edward Kennedy, Pearlstein said: ” I think that if this [shield] law as I now read it were in force, we would not have been required to turn over the file.”

New York Times columnist William Safire was deeply troubled by the effects of what he called the “general chill in the air.”

Safire said he could not say what he really thought about the current use of prosecutorial discretion. “For the first time I have to pull my punches," he said "because I am afraid of retaliation against prisoner 45570083 [Judith Miller, the NYT reporter now jailed for failing to testify on the Plame leak].

"Because any harsh criticism of [prosecutors] by me might be taken out on her," Safire said, "I am constrained to speak gently. That is the chilling effect. It works all to well, which is why I will now shut up and look to Congress to take the chill out of the air.”

When asked by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) whether the privilege should be absolute, Safire said no. “If a national security crisis is about to occur, as citizens reporters have to help. But journalists and reporters are not the fingers at the end of the long arm of the law.”

Deputy Attorney General James Comey Jr. did not appear, but entered written testimony carrying the administration’s message that it opposed the shield law.

Several Democratic Senators expressed unhappiness with Comey's absence and asked Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to request that he appear at a later date.