It took courage for more than a dozen Allentown police officers to divulge what they felt was wrongdoing by their chief, who they said threatened "retribution" on anyone who did so. It also took solid assurances that the chief would never find out who those whistle-blowers were.
In any case, the disclosures were published in February 2003; by the following August, Chief Stephen Kuhn was gone.
That was one of many episodes in which confidential sources trusted me to protect them, no matter what, and I never betrayed a source, not even if threatened with jail when Pennsylvania's Shield Law for news media people did not apply.
Many other reporters and editors, including those at The Morning Call, have had even more dramatic situations involving confidential sources, and dramatic results about government wrongdoing that might never have been aired otherwise.
One such series by Morning Call reporters Tim Darragh and Nick Politi, years before my columns about Kuhn, resulted in a number of Bethlehem Township workers and officials going to jail or losing their jobs.
America is a better nation because of what was done by our most famous confidential source, Daniel Ellsberg, despite the furious denunciations, by some government authorities, of what he did.
Ellsberg was part of a top-secret government analysis, the Pentagon Papers, detailing U.S. involvement in Vietnam and revealing that the war was justified by outrageous deceptions. He tried to get members of Congress to take action, but nothing happened until The New York Times began publishing the papers in 1971.
The Nixon administration, claiming the disclosures put American lives in danger, got an injunction against further publication, a rare example of "prior restraint" to keep a newspaper from reporting something. The U.S. Supreme Court promptly ruled that the First Amendment trumps the need of authorities to suppress whichever inconvenient truths they don't like.
Once the cat was out of the bag and furious denunciations were being aimed at, not hurled by, government authorities, Ellsweig came forward on his own. He was prosecuted, but a federal court dismissed all charges against him and the late Anthony Russo, another analyst who helped him.
That dismissal came when it was discovered the government engaged in widespread criminal conduct in its quest to nail Ellsberg, perpetrated by the same team of thugs the White House then dispatched in what's known as the Watergate scandal.
Again, it was confidential sources divulging wrongdoing to news people that resulted in Watergate chasing Richard Nixon out of office. (I once interviewed a key leader of those thugs, G. Gordon Liddy, after his conviction in the related crimes, and I can tell you there never was anyone who deserved prison more.)
That was when I worked for The Associated Press, and I find it distressing, although not surprising, that today's White House has targeted the AP and its confidential sources for divulging the truth.
As reported over the past week, the Obama administration is not only resorting to furious denunciations of leaks involving a 2012 terrorist plot in Yemen, thwarted by U.S. intelligence people, to get a bomb aboard a plane headed for America. Attorney General Eric Holder said the leaks "put American lives at risk."
After the AP reported the story, the Obama administration began a huge snooping campaign to find out who the AP's sources are, with Holder's agency secretly obtaining thousands of AP telephone records, including the personal phone records of about 100 reporters and editors.
The unwarranted searches defied the Bill of Rights provision that says, "The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable [unwarranted] searches and seizures, shall not be violated." Holder had no court warrants for the AP intrusions.
Maybe the administration's motives were valid, but I tend to doubt it. This story involved Yemen, a puppet state of Saudi Arabia, the source of most of the people and financing for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Osama bin Laden was an ethnic Yemeni who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia.) But it is U.S. policy to be fawningly nice to the oil-rich Saudis, so we instead targeted their chief adversary, Iraq, which had virtually nothing to do with 9/11.
Now we're supposed to believe the White House tale that the snooping into the confidential sources of a major news organization is only to protect American lives and has nothing to do with suppression of news that is politically inconvenient to the White House.
As for the other scandal hitting the Obama administration — that the Internal Revenue Service was used to target tea party yahoos and other right-wingers — it may be just as reprehensible as the snooping into the AP's sources.
However, I seem to recall that conservatives, now engaged in almost hysterical yelping, did not have a problem when it was reported that previous administrations used the IRS to go after an antiwar church, the NAACP (after it criticized George W. Bush) and Greenpeace (at the request of an organization financed by Exxon Mobil).
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.