A correction was made to this article on July 6, 2005.
NEW YORK — Time magazine said it would turn over documents revealing the confidential sources of reporter Matthew Cooper to the special prosecutor investigating the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
On Monday the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, sending the case back to federal district court, where Judge Thomas F. Hogan told both reporters they would have to begin serving 18-month prison sentences in a week if they did not agree to testify before the grand jury.
Time’s decision means it’s likely Cooper won’t go to prison, and it may spell a reprieve for Miller as well if the information contained in the documents satisfies special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s line of inquiry.
“We believe that our decision to provide the special prosecutor with the subpoenaed records obviates the need for Matt Cooper to testify and certainly removes any justification for his incarceration,” said Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc.
Time’s decision to turn over Cooper’s notes caused a rift between two of the nation’s most storied news organizations, which had until that point stood shoulder-to-shoulder to protect the principle that the press must be able to guarantee confidentiality to sources to gain access to sensitive information.
“We are deeply disappointed by Time Inc.’s decision to deliver the subpoenaed records,” said New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Pearlstine said that while Time Inc. disagrees with the ruling, that doesn’t mean that the press, or even a president, is above the law.
“The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments; that Time Inc. strongly disagrees with the courts provides no immunity,” he said.
Pearlstine said the turning over of the documents doesn’t “reflect a departure from our belief in the need for confidential sources.”
He noted that the Justice Dept. only seeks sources from reporters as a last resort; Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox did not force the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to reveal the identity of Deep Throat.
But critics of Time’s decision said it would weaken the press in the U.S. and set a dubious example abroad, where the president has raised the need for greater press freedom in Russia, the Middle East and Asia.