CIA Leak Re-Imagined In 'Nothing But The Truth'

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Kate Beckinsale in "Nothing But The Truth." i

Kate Beckinsale plays Rachel Armstrong — a fictionalized Judith Miller — in Nothing But The Truth. Armstrong is an investigative reporter who is jailed when she refuses to reveal her sources. Yari Film Group hide caption

itoggle caption Yari Film Group
Kate Beckinsale in "Nothing But The Truth."

Kate Beckinsale plays Rachel Armstrong — a fictionalized Judith Miller — in Nothing But The Truth. Armstrong is an investigative reporter who is jailed when she refuses to reveal her sources.

Yari Film Group
Alan Alda, Kate Beckinsale and Matt Dillon in "Nothing But The Truth." i

Alan Alda (left) plays Rachel Armstrong's lawyer in Nothing But The Truth. "Somewhere along the line, the press stopped being the White Knight and started being the dragon," Alda's character says. Matt Dillon (right) plays special prosecutor Patton Dubois. Yari Film Group hide caption

itoggle caption Yari Film Group
Alan Alda, Kate Beckinsale and Matt Dillon in "Nothing But The Truth."

Alan Alda (left) plays Rachel Armstrong's lawyer in Nothing But The Truth. "Somewhere along the line, the press stopped being the White Knight and started being the dragon," Alda's character says. Matt Dillon (right) plays special prosecutor Patton Dubois.

Yari Film Group

As I watched Nothing But The Truth, I periodically wondered who its target audience is. Laid-off reporters with unwanted free time?

I covered the CIA leak case for years. A central player was Judith Miller — then of The New York Times — who became a First Amendment champion for refusing to tell special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald who revealed Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. Miller went to jail for 85 days, though she never published any articles about Wilson. The iron-clad principle goes like this: You have to protect all of your sources if you want any of them to speak to you again.

For journalists, it seemed like a Twilight Zone scenario. Miller didn't commit any crimes. Many journalists questioned why she should be thrown in jail. Many editors and news organizations said it was an affront to the First Amendment. How can they report on federal officials if they can be tossed in jail by other federal officials? To these journalists, it seemed like a bazooka solution to a pea-shooter scenario.

But Fitzgerald clearly had the law on his side, and Miller was a problematic poster child. She had written articles that gave credibility to the claims of anonymous government officials that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion in 2003. In the Wilson case, Miller was protecting the vice president's top aide, I. Lewis Libby. He was no whistleblower but sought to cast doubt on a political enemy — Wilson's husband.

So in this new film version, written and directed by Rod Lurie, the fictional Judy Miller gets cleaned up quite a bit. Kate Beckinsale plays reporter Rachel Armstrong, an ambitious up-and-comer on the national desk of the Capital Sun-Times. The president has just bombed Venezuela over an assassination attempt — and Armstrong has a scoop about a CIA cover-up.

Armstrong's story makes huge waves and leads to the appointment of a special prosecutor. Intrepid reporter refuses to reveal sources. Earnest but indignant prosecutor is unyielding in his pursuit of the leaker, explaining how the law makes the release of that information a potential crime, and how she's obstructing a federal investigation. You could get partial law school credit for some of the dialogue. And it's off to the hoosegow for Armstrong.

The media come in for rough weather. As a young mother, Armstrong is naturally the subject of a cloying jailhouse interview with a Barbara Walters knockoff, but Armstrong resists the usual script, resisting an invitation to cry. She is beaten up in jail. Her marriage is tested.

"That's the only thing that Armstrong's got going for her — the media getting to turn her into some sort of cause celebre," says special prosecutor Patton Dubois (played by Matt Dillon). But the media's interest in her flickers, as it did for Miller. (Miller took special pains to thank CNN's Lou Dobbs for keeping a spotlight on her case.)

And how many people outside the press truly care about Armstrong's predicament — or, for that matter, Miller's? In fact, as I thought back on a scene depicting a media frenzy surrounding the outed agent, I realized that the movie depicts the media itself as an institution almost beyond redemption.

Alan Alda, as the reporter's lawyer, delivers the movie's message in blinking neon lights: "Somewhere along the line, the press stopped being the White Knight and started being the dragon," he says. "That's the way people see it."

The Valerie Plame Wilson case triggered the clash of competing imperatives: politics, journalism and the law. These days, when those three things collide, the newsies lose.

So when Hollywood also forsakes the press in a movie about the struggles of a seemingly heroic reporter — well, that's a telling twist.

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