Thursday, July 21, 2005

Shielding the Press

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently holding hearings on a proposed federal bill which would allow journalists to protect their sources. The bill parallels the laws 49 states have enacted to accomplish the same thing. Although the original bill was introduced before Judith Miller went to jail on a civil contempt charge for refusing to name her source for an article which she never actually published, the hearings are taking place against that backdrop.

As to be expected, the New York Times has weighed in on the bill.

It was immensely encouraging to see Republican and Democratic lawmakers testify together yesterday about the need for the federal government to follow the lead of 49 states and guarantee that journalists are allowed the right to protect the names of confidential sources in most circumstances. Two Republicans, Senator Richard Lugar and Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, and Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, spoke eloquently about the role of a free press in a democracy. They have also shown that drafting a responsible shield law is not as hard as some critics say. Just this week, they amended bills pending in both houses of Congress to address the government's concern that the rights of reporters should not override the security of the nation when it faces an imminent threat.

I find it ironic that the editorial concluded with the following:

Congress, which has managed to consider pork-barrel spending and corporate giveaways, should be able to find the time to pass such a vital law in this session.

Perhaps the "pork-barrel spending and corporate giveaways" would not have passed so easily if The New York Times and other major media outlets had done their job and reported on such pending legislation (or at least commented on them) before the bills were passed.

Floyd Abrams, Judith Miller's lawyer, and a famous and very respected First Amendment lawyer, testified at the hearings yesterday. Although it is possible that Mr. Abrams didn't fully intend to criticize the current media, it is hard to miss his point in the following:

The public’s right to know is not satisfied by news media which act as conveyor belts for handouts and releases, and as stationary eye-witnesses. It is satisfied only if reporters can undertake independent, objective investigations. [Emphasis added]

While I believe the shield law is a good idea, I also admit to believing that today's media probably don't deserve such protection unless they are finally willing to do their job properly, even if it means cutting off a source who burns them or being cut off from the rounds of cocktail parties where such connections are made.


Blogger PoppieProng said...

yeah, what's the deal with the press telling us that X will happen, when there's no time to at least try to tell your congressperson, "hey, I don't like X!"?

8:21 AM  
Blogger charley said...

good post. also, as noticed in article linked at escahton, the times actually does have a policy that they don't need to protect sources that have lied to them.

this nation is under so many threats. the "terrorists" are the least of our problems. well, unless they get hold of a nuke.

it's all just one long neocon nitemare. which reminds me, i fell asleep with what i think were these hearings on cspan. strange dreams.

11:06 AM  

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