Like many journalists in Israel, I was recently asked to sign a petition calling on the attorney-general to overturn the indictment against Haaretz reporter Uri Blau. Blau, who is accused of unauthorized possession of classified documents, exposed information gleaned from hundreds of secret documents leaked to him from the Israel Defense Forces Central Command bureau by former soldier Anat Kamm (who is currently serving a jail sentence).
I didn't sign the petition. Why? On the one hand, I can identify with the petition's sentiment that the indictment poses a great threat to democracy, but this story also has another side, and it relates to what certainly wasn't the media's finest hour.
In this particular case, the automatic rush to Blau's aid and instinctive attack of the attorney-general are misguided: The finger should be pointed first at Blau, and then at his employer, Haaretz.
Putting aside Blau's first mistake — taking a large amount of classified documents, wholesale, from the bureau of a major-general, instead of taking just the documents he needed for a specific article (which was a totally reckless act) – the transgression committed by this reporter, and the editors of his newspaper, was first and foremost the sin of arrogance.
Why arrogance? Because they didn't resist the temptation that every reporter who has ever held a classified document knows all too well: the impulse to go public with the document just to show that you have it. For most reporters, and news outfits, this first impulse is usually followed by good judgment – protecting your source. Presenting a classified document in a newspaper obligates the owner of the document (in this case, the IDF) and law enforcement authorities to investigate the source of the leak, and inquire about further leaks. The unwritten rule is that journalists usually don't publish the actual document but only report on its content. The IDF and the Israel Security Agency usually turn a blind eye when that happens, and don't do too much to uncover the source of the leak.
Uri Blau first and foremost betrayed his source, and Anat Kamm is rotting in prison for it. His, and Haaretz's, conduct after Kamm confessed to leaking hundreds of documents only made things worse. Blau should have complied with the request Kamm made upon her arrest and turned the documents over to the authorities. In most people's opinion, a journalist has no greater duty than to protect, and minimize the damage for his or her source. But Blau and Haaretz held on to their arrogance.
With his conduct, Blau deterred future sources with access to potential journalistically valuable information. In my view, this damage far outweighs the danger to democracy that the petition warns against.
The writer is the editor of the Israel Defense website.