The jailing of a New York Times reporter for refusing to reveal a source could discourage others from talking to the press about wrongdoings, a West Virginia University journalism professor says.

Judith Miller was incarcerated Wednesday (July 6) after refusing to divulge a confidential source to a grand jury investigating the Bush administration’s leak of an undercover CIA operative’s name. A second reporter, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, avoided jail after his source gave him permission to talk to prosecutors.

“It seems that prosecutors are more than willing to threaten and enforce jail sentences on journalistseven when they are able to get the information they need from other sources,”said Ralph Hanson, an associate professor in the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism.

“I fear this will have a chilling effect on whistleblowers’willingness to speak to journalists,”Hanson added.

Hanson’s area of specialization is mass media, and he is the author of a textbook on mass communication in contemporary society. He has written extensively about the Miller-Cooper case on his blog site (

The case centers around the release of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s name to the media after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, questioned part of President Bush’s justification for invading Iraq. Disclosure of an undercover intelligence officer’s identity can be a federal crime if prosecutors show the leak was intentional and the person who released that information knew of the officer’s secret status.

Plame’s name first appeared in a column by Robert Novak, who cited two unidentified senior Bush administration officials as sources. A story by Cooper mentioning Plame’s name appeared a few days later. Miller, who spoke at WVU in 2003 as part of Festival of Ideas, never wrote an article.

Hanson is available to talk to reporters about the case. He can be reached at 304-288-5620.