Much is at stake in journalist-shield bill
A "shield law" is before the Congress that protects journalists from being prosecuted if they don't reveal their anonymous sources. Proponents of the law include Republicans and Democrats, as well as the attorneys general of most states (most states already have a shield law). Mukasey and other Bush Adminstration figures claim it will be harder to combat terrorism if they can't compel journalists to reveal their confidential, anonymous sources. Other critics include those who object to language in the proposed bill defining who is a journalist. This law will likely cover some bloggers (not all); some are questioning why this law should define who is a journalist and deserving protection, when the Constution doesn't define who and who isn't the press, just that there is Freedom of the Press. Anonymous sources do have their problems, but the worst cases of abuse involve those in power using journalists to disseminate lies, not honest whistleblowers exposing corruption and wanting anonymity to avoid retaliation.
Journalists, their lying sources, and the anthrax investigation by Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com
Judy Miller's War by Alexander Cockburn - Counterpunch.com
At present, there's no guaranteed protection in federal courtrooms for journalists who accept confidential information from such sources. Federal prosecutors and judges have shown an increased willingness to pursue whistleblowers' identities, particularly in cases involving terrorism or claims of national security.
Such high-profile cases dominate headlines. But we also should be concerned about the potential to encourage or chill those who come forward on less-than-national-survival matters — issues such as drinking water or food safety, public-health statistics, fraud or abuse in road-building or errant law enforcement policies or practices, to name but a few.
The Senate proposal — like most compromises — offers something for many and likely completely satisfies none. The legislation does not shield spies, terrorists, crooks or eyewitnesses to criminal acts. Nor does the protection from subpoena apply in cases where officials can show there is imminent danger of death, kidnapping or serious injury.