”Nothing But the Truth” is a pretty simple movie about a very complicated subject. Loosely (very loosely) following the Valerie Plame scandal, it involves a reporter (Kate Beckinsale)who reveals the identity of a CIA operative, and then refuses to identify her source. Claiming that doing so would compromise her journalistic integrity, she goes to jail because of her secret. Then her lawyer argues in front of the Supreme Court that forcing her to reveal her source would render the First Amendment worthless, because no source would ever speak in confidence to a reporter again, and the government would, as it were, be unaccountable for its actions.
Compelling arguments, for sure, and “Nothing But the Truth” does a good job of painting Beckinsale as a martyr who sacrifices her marriage and family for the sake of her principles. She even compares herself to Martin Luther King Jr, at one point; another truth-speaker who spent time behind bars because of his principles. She is a strong woman, sure she is right, and willing to pay whatever price to protect her principles. You can’t help but admire that.
But then you have to look at the other side. You have to understand that this isn’t Deep Throat or the Pentagon Papers. Neither of those leaks compromised national security, and that’s the key point. Beckinsale’s article did. Within the circumstances of the movie, her actions seem good and right – she is exposing the government’s lies — but the thing about the law is that it’s not really able to take circumstances into account. What if she had published the date, time and locations of troop movements in Afghanistan or Iraq? Would she have been protected then? Would she still be a hero? Under the law, journalists are not allowed to protect their sources when their sources have compromised national security. It’s a good law, with potentially unfortunate circumstances. Beckinsale would have done herself a favor by understanding it better before she broke it.