The sexual assault case against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is famously falling apart; the alleged victim faces credibility problems from lying on her asylum application, among other things. Here in New York City, the district attorney, Cy Vance, is under considerable scrutiny for his decision to charge Strauss-Kahn in the first place. Unsurprisingly, the prosecution is likely to drop the charges. Equally unsurprisingly, they are laying the groundwork for doing so by throwing the victim under the bus: pointing out her inconsistencies, calling her a prostitute, and so forth. I hold no brief for the woman, who looks increasingly like an extortionist, but I’m quite troubled by how the prosecution is behaving. While these types of leaks are legion, they are, at best, in tension with a lawyer’s ethical duties under New York’s Code of Professional Responsibility.And, I am increasingly appalled that journalists (that’s you, Laura Italiano) are willing to give “prosecution sources” – almost certainly the DA – a cloak of anonymity behind which to fling mud. Anonymity has a distinct purpose: it operates to protect sources against retribution, and to enable journalists (along with the rest of us) to have access to information that would otherwise be chilled. It is implausible to think that Vance and the prosecution team wouldn’t release this information without anonymity – on the contrary, they’re desperate to do so. This isn’t just unseemly behavior by the press. It’s an invitation, an excuse, for judges to push back against anonymity for whistleblowers and others who really need protection. We lose the moral and practical justification for keeping sources’ identities confidential when journalists let politicians protect themselves from an angry electorate via anonymity.
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