Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Disappearing Liberty...One Chunk at a Time

Note: This post has nothing to do with marriage or Massachusetts per se.

As the U.S. Senate holds its hearing on shield laws for journalists, the Administration already took its ball off the court and in effect said, "We won't play by the rules. Do it our way or the terrorists have won."

Deputy Attorney General James Comey was to represent the Justice Department. Shortly before he was to appear, he withdrew and instead testified publicly with prepared remarks. As George Bush's puppet, he then didn't have to be logical or defend the President's position. Puerile.

A Federal law giving reporters limited rights to withhold sources from legal and legislative probers is very unlikely. Even so, the Bush folk are trying to torpedo such an effort. Comey immediately waved the terrorist card, saying, "The bill is bad public policy primarily because it would bar the government from obtaining information about media sources – even in the most urgent of circumstances affecting the public's health or safety or national security."

Don't expect Justice to do its job. Use reporters as police agents. Oh, and if that means the public is less informed, that far less investigative reporting occurs, and that we end up nodding to the talking heads of TV instead of getting real news, that's okay by George.

In two ironies, first, the bill that would protect reporters from being imprisoned by Federal courts for refusing to reveal sources, is sponsored by two heartland Republicans, Richard Lugar and Mike Pence of Indiana. Second, bill co-sponsor Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd, referred to the 31 states and District of Columbia, which have limited local shield laws. "(T)hen wouldn't we expect to see great threats to public safety in those states that have shield laws which are at least as protective as the shield laws that we propose?" he asked.

Oddly enough, numerous leftists, including local bloggers here have bought into the Administration's position that journalists should quickly and passively cough up sources. That's like unquestioning obedience to a doctor because "if you don't take this drug and endure this test, you'll rob us of the only treatment and diagnostic tools we have." Both are coded language for obedience to authority without fully considering the consequences.

A wiser view is by The Nation's Victor Navasky in the August 1st issue's "The Rights of Journalists".

Plug: The full article is available online only to subscribers. If you don't get The Nation, you should.

Even he does not believe in absolute privilege, but he also has the wider, longer view of the issue. In part, he sees the media/entertainment conglomerates control over most of the press as eroding meaningful journalism. He admits this is an interlaced set of complex issues.
In the absence of a federal shield law, these controversies can be decided only case by case and conscience by conscience. But that is different from leaving it up to the corporate conscience...

Be that as it may, if I am right, the matter of a reporter's relationship to his/her sources won't be resolved until we break up the media behemoths; transform the judiciary into one that shares the views of Justices Hugo Black, William O. Douglas and William Brennan about the primacy of the First Amendment; repeal the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; and recognize that criminalizing journalists' conversations has only contributed to the confusions of the present situation.

But in case not all (or none) of the above happens, there are a few slender threads of hope on the legislative front: Republicans and Democrats have introduced several different bills for a federal shield law in both houses, claiming to offer journalists absolute protection but allowing the government to determine who is and is not a journalist, putting at risk independent journalists, not to mention bloggers. Conceivably the plight of Judith Miller will invite constructive legislation.
That's the matter with us pinkos. We are forever looking for fundamental changes that really fix problems.

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