Sarah Palin’s WikiLeaks Fail

People who do not need more evidence of Sarah Palin’s lack of seriousness should not read further.

As the WikiLeaks controversy continues, Palin could not resist the urge to tweet her thoughts about the affair. On Monday morning, she sent this message to her 317,000 Twitter followers:

Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book “America by Heart” from being leaked,but US Govt can’t stop Wikileaks’ treasonous act?

Inexplicable? Does she not understand the difference between apples and nuclear reactors? The two instances she links have little in common. In the case of her book, she managed to get a judge to order Gawker to take down a post showing portions of her book after the website had put them up. And the judge in this case was following precedent established when The Nation magazine was successfully sued by Harper & Row in the 1970s after publishing excerpts of former President Gerald Ford’s memoirs before the book was released. The Supreme Court, deciding the case in favor of the publisher, said media outlets could not, under a claim of fair use, publish a significant portion of a copyrighted book (accepting the argument that this could weaken the commercial value of the book). Palin’s lawyers took advantage of this ruling, in demanding that Gawker not show the actual pages of her book.

Stopping a media leak involving government information before the fact is not the same. The grand-daddy legal decision on this front comes out of the famous Pentagon Papers case, when the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not block newspapers from publishing the secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam war leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to The New York Times and other papers. The guiding principle here: the government does not have the right to impose prior restraint on the media.

This latest WikiLeaks episode could cause some, including Palin, to argue that in these post-9/11 days the prior restraint rule is a luxury that cannot be afforded. But that’s where the law stands. With her tweet tying this important and historical issue to her own (less consequential) book, Palin demonstrates that for her simplistic analysis is the best analysis and that the best way to understand anything is to view that topic from Planet Sarah.


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