Stemming the Rampant Dissemination of Information

Duh-byaEverybody’s screaming about the White House’s alleged leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in retaliation against her husband for his opposition to Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” rhetoric before the war. The problem with most of the coverage I’m seeing is that it appears to be confusing what may be two completely separate incidents. Robert D. Novak, in today’s column, denies that the source for his column of July 14 was a White House leak at all. The thing is, even assuming he’s telling the truth (which I have no real reason to doubt), that doesn’t let the Bush cronies off the hook. Why assume it’s one or the other? No, Novak may not have used a White House leak as his source. But that’s not to say that the leak — or an attempted leak — didn’t happen as well. Now, before you accuse me of being overly conspiratorial, believe it or not, I actually don’t want to go around having every unsubstantiated rumor hunted down by some overzealous “special prosecutor.” But given the credibility with which everyone’s treating this one, I don’t see that we have much choice, even taking Novak’s denials into account. And I’m sorry, but “separation” from the guilty parties isn’t sufficient, for either the leaker or those who (may have) ordered it: Both must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This gross attempt at intimidation — again, if the allegations have merit — would be very serious indeed.

Not that I’m all that surprised, coming from the Bush regime.

MoviesI’m actually more interested in the MPAA’s decision to forbid the sending out of “screeners” for Oscar-nominated films. They’ve cut a deal with the major studios (including their subsidiaries) that will, in effect, require that voters see the film in the theater. Okay, I’ll grant that theatrical presentation beats home viewing any day of the week. But come on. Who goes out to see every Oscar-worthy picture — or even a substantial portion of them — in the theater? Even industry folk have lives. And what about the films that have already completed their theatrical run, and aren’t yet out on video? I guess the MPAA’s attitude is, “Tough.”

What this does is dramatically hamper the chances of smaller pictures in the Oscar race; the Oscars will now be just another reward for commercial success (I know, a lot of folks said that after Titanic, but this time it’s actually institutionalized). The counter-argument is that true independents will still be able to send out VHS or DVD copies of their films, therefore, presumably, giving them an actual advantage over studio pictures, but again, I don’t think that’s realistic. One, true independents are going to have a tough time affording to send out those copies, and two, if they’ve signed a distribution deal with one of the studios — say, Miramax — they’ll be bound by the new rules. I can completely understand the MPAA’s concerns about piracy, but just as they went too far with CSS encryption, they’re going too far this time, when far less radical solutions are readily available — burning in identification codes, for example, so illicit copies can be traced to the source.

I guess “information” really is the new currency of power.


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