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McDermott loses again

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Rep. James McDermott lost another round in the legal battle over his leaking an illegally obtained tape of GOP leaders 10 years ago.

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that McDermott, D-Seattle, should not have given reporters access to the taped call….

The ruling upholds a previous decision ordering McDermott to pay House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, more than $700,000 for leaking the taped conversation. The figure includes $60,000 in damages and more than $600,000 in legal costs.

McDermott claims there are serious whistleblower and First Amendment issues at stake here, and I’m sympathetic to that — as are 18 news organizations that filed briefs supporting him. We do not want to overly restrict the ability of people to expose government wrongdoing — as the revelations of NSA eavesdropping, CIA prisons and FBI abuse of National Security Letters attest.

But whistleblower exceptions generally involve matters of great public interest. This leak, besides being based on an illegally obtained tape, involved little more than partisan advantage — an effort to embarass Congressional Republicans and Newt Gingrich in particular. While they deserved to be embarassed — talking about ethics in public while conniving in private is never pretty — such petty score-settling isn’t worthy of the same protection as a government worker exposing crimes and corruption.

In this case, it’s hard to see how the public interest could trump the legalities of the matter.

So good for the court, and let’s hope the Supreme Court declines to hear the case and brings this saga to an end. A $700,000 payout appears to be a fitting punishment for what in the end was a relatively minor offense — as evidenced by the awarding of just $60,000 in actual damages. Political embarassment is only worth so much.

Hall of Shame has been updated.