Remember Steven Hatfill? The guy whose life was destroyed by accusations that he was the anthrax mailer? Probably you don't remember that a Federal judge found that "there's not a scintilla of evidence to suggest Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with" them. The investigation made headlines and planted hordes of reporters snapping candids everywhere he went. The vindication has passed almost entirely unnoticed, leaving this guy's life in ruins.

Now the reporter is refusing to release her sources, claiming that she can't remember who told her, and she's thrown away her notes. I hesitate to accuse another journalist of lying but this seems most, most unlikely unless she has suffered a traumatic brain injury in the interim. You don't forget the name of the person who gave you the biggest scoop of your working life; getting a really juicy tidbit that you can break is one of those moments of which you always have crystal clear recall. You also tend to keep all of your notes on a high profile piece, precisely because you might get sued.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is standing behind her, expressing outrage that the judge has ordered her to pay $5,000 for every day that she refuses to release the names of the ten sources she used for those stories. I'm afraid I have no sympathy. I think the general presumption that journalists shouldn't be forced to release their sources is a good one. But this seems to have given many journalists the idea that we are some sort of sacred priest class, above the laws that govern the lives of the hoi polloi. Who on earth do you think you are, Miss Thing?

The relatively wide latitude given journalists on revealing sources is there to serve a social good, not our careers. In the case of the Plame case, I have some sympathy for the reporters; it is generally a good thing that public officials think that they can leak without having their names revealed. If they didn't, we'd know a hell of a lot less about how critical decisions, particularly in intelligence and foreign policy, get made.

But I don't see any equally compelling interest in protecting prosecutorial leaks. Prosecutors are not inquisitors; they are supposed to try their cases in public court, or not at all. Selective leaking of investigation details in order to put pressure on targets, or taint the jury pool, are abusive. (Naturally, they were Eliot Spitzer's favorite trick.) I can think of no reason to help journalists and law enforcement try their targets in the court of public opinion.