November 22, 2004


Senator Introduces Bill to Protect Reporters Shielding Their Sources (Donna Cassata, 11/22/04, Associated Press)

Reporters would not be forced to reveal their sources, and their notes, photographs and other material would be protected from government eyes under a bill introduced Friday.

Amid a spate of First Amendment fights pitting the government against journalists over confidential sources, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., proposed the legislation as critical to ensuring the nation's liberties.

"Democracy is premised on an informed citizenry," Dodd said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "A free press is the best guarantee of a knowledgeable citizenry."

Journalists contend the First Amendment, which established freedom of the press, gives reporters the right not to divulge their sources. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have "shield laws" to protect the media from disclosing sources in state cases.

But no federal law exists, and special prosecutors in a number of high-profile cases have aggressively pursued journalists. The possibility of jail time looms for some.

Senator Dodd is correct that we need to be informed, but integral to that is knowing who the sources for stories are and what ax it is they're grinding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2004 4:24 PM

A free press does not mean freedom from obeying the laws by shielding criminal behavior.

Posted by: jd watson at November 22, 2004 5:53 PM

Journalists may be for the most part semi-literate scribblers with no ethics, but that does not make them lawyers.

Posted by: Bart at November 22, 2004 6:20 PM

We cannot - dare not - have an entity as powerful as the media that does not have to answer to anyone. Part of a responsible society is that, ultimately, we are all responsible to something: our spouse, our family, our boss, our community, the law. We see what the media can do right now, today, by watching the MSM reporting on Iraq and politics. They will run everything they can if they have no limits, because they are able to influence and shape public opinion so easily .

It keeps us responsible if we have to submit our doings to some kind of evaluation. Ghandi made a list of what he called "The Seven Blunders of the World", one of which is "Rights without Responsibility". That is what the media wants, and that is a "blunder". What makes them different than everyone else?

Posted by: DL Meadows at November 22, 2004 6:30 PM

So who gets to decide who gets to be considered a "journalist" and eligible for these special privileges? With any other profession, the solution would be to license and regulate.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 22, 2004 6:32 PM

"Journalists contend the First Amendment, which established freedom of the press, gives reporters the right not to divulge their sources."

That's an interesting interpretation. Perhaps they are reading from an alternate draft, because I see nothing mentioning such a right in my copy. I wonder how many of these journalists also think that the 2nd Amendment does not in fact guarantee the right to own guns?

Posted by: brian at November 22, 2004 7:13 PM

I'm a semi-literate scribbler for pay.

I don't like shield laws for the same reason that Jeff says religions should be wary of government faith-based initiative money.

Once you accept the king's shilling, you have to do what the king tells you to do.

That said, I've been a semi-literate scribbler for a long time, and the number of times that reporters have hidden evidence of crimes is tiny, and the number of times grandstanding prosecutors and politicians have tried to cook up phony stories is much larger.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 22, 2004 8:37 PM

"the number of times that reporters have hidden evidence of crimes is tiny"

Mishandling classified material, including telling it to your journalist pals, is a crime. Happens daily.

Posted by: brian at November 22, 2004 9:40 PM

Dead letter, brian.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 23, 2004 1:14 PM