So Wen Ho Lee gets rich off his lawsuit. What a pity. You’ll remember Mr. Lee: the nuke lab dude who went home with computer files, was suspected of espionage on China’s behalf, but ended up earning sympathy because in some ways his case was mishandled. But the fact is that the news organizations STILL have not admitted to ANY factual inaccuracies, nor was the accuracy even officially challenged. And for good reason: The fact is that Wen Ho Lee is no victim. The stories were true, in that Mr. Lee pleaded guilty for “mishandling computer files,” as the AP story put it. ANd these weren’t just ANY files; they were files with important nuke-related info on them. And TO THIS DAY, Wen Ho Lee still hasn’t offered adequate explanation for why he took the files out of the office in the first place, when it was obviously improper for him to do so. Meanwhile, even as a big mainstream media basher, I must say that the news organizations here are getting a raw deal. Note this: “The companies said they agreed to the sum to forestall jail sentences for their reporters, even larger payments in the form of fines and the prospect of revealing confidential sources.” There is no reason in this case for the news organizations to have to reveal their controversial sources, at least not as far as I can see. The sources did not give up state secrets or classified info; they blew the whistle on Mr. Lee, who was suspected himself of giving up state secrets and who clearly was quite lackadaisical, at BEST, with at least semi-privileged information. As Mark Corallo notes in the Barry Bonds-related steroids case, reporters should be forced by a court to give up their sources only if it is a “matter of grave national security or impending physical harm to innocent people, not just, well, this is the only way we’re going to be able to get this information.”
So Wen Ho Lee wins some money, and all of the rest of us lose.