The Free Press, Mankato, MN


May 19, 2013

Press 'shield law' is a bad idea

Press ‘shield law’ is a bad idea

The Obama administration announced last week that it is throwing its support behind the press shield law that has been stalled in Congress since time immemorial. Critics insist that the administration, suddenly mired in scandal, is simply trying to curry favor with the news media, but the proposal deserves to be judged on its merits.

And on its merits, the shield law is a bad idea. Let me explain why.

The avowed purpose of the shield law is to make it difficult for the government to compel testimony from journalists. It is self-evident that being forced to disclose confidential information would make it harder for reporters to do their jobs. In effect, the risk of compelled disclosure increases the cost of journalism.

There are several versions of the shield law pending in Congress. The one that seems to have the most support is grandiloquently titled the “Free Flow of Information Act.” But this bill, much like the guidelines on which the Justice Department was supposed to rely before seizing telephone records of Associated Press reporters, is chock-full of exceptions — particularly for national security cases.

The statute, in any case, says only that the government can’t subpoena documents or testimony from journalists until it has exhausted other reasonable means of getting the same information. In a saner world, this would be a universal standard — but it probably wouldn’t be a significant change for the practice of journalism.

Put otherwise, the protections themselves might change the status quo only a little. And there is reason to think that the shield law, even if it existed, would have offered scant protection to the AP.

— Stephen Carter of Bloomberg News

Rich Should Give Up Social Security

In the aftermath of 9/11, many young, strong Americans enlisted, willingly agreeing to sacrifice their lives if necessary to protect our country’s interests. Today’s wealthiest Americans have the same opportunity to put their country’s interests before their own. Politicians should not shy away from asking them to put forth not their lives but what are, for them, their modest Social Security checks.

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