• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Privileged class

USA Today and Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) square off over whether journalists should have privileges such as shield laws. USA Today, unsurprisingly, takes the side of journalists because "some stories won't get told if whistle-blowers fear retaliation" and "people must be able to speak to the press without fear of reprisal." Reynolds counters that journalists are asking to assert a privilege not available to other citizens and "the arguments for that privilege seem more self-interested than public-interested."

I'm with Reynolds on this one, since he is downright brilliant in coming to the same conclusion I've always argued:

The other problem with journalist "shield" laws is that journalism isn't a profession; it's an activity, one now engaged in by many. With the proliferation of blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos and the like, anyone can be a journalist. But if anyone could assert a journalistic privilege not to disclose sources, the work of the courts would be far tougher.

Efforts to limit the privilege to "professional" journalists, on the other hand, quickly transform into a sort of guild or licensing system for the press — ironically, something that the First Amendment clearly prohibits.

"The press" is rapidly becoming "the people." How in the world to we allow the government we're supposed to be the watchdog of decide who is and isn't a legitimate member, in effect licensing journalists?

A better course would be to work for tighter controls on prosecutors so that there are better protections for all citizens who end up in front of a grand jury. Don't make them answer questions unless the prosecutor demonstrates absolutely that the information is necessary and can be gotten no other way.


Mon, 03/10/2008 - 11:11am

No privlege should exist for reporters, or people like Glenn Reynolds, who enjoys a privlege that allows him, for example, to keep quiet when he knows, for a fact, that a person convicted of a crime is innocent.

Such a privlege is not demanded by the Constitution ... nor even mentioned therein.

Yet, Mr. Reynolds would argue strenuously that he wouldn't be able to do his job without such a privlege. Which is just as much BS as a reporter claiming they can't report the news without resorting to secret sources.

Mon, 03/10/2008 - 5:26pm


you should read the article you are commenting on. Reynolds
does not hold the view you attribute to him.

Casey Tompkins
Mon, 03/10/2008 - 8:53pm

"youshouldcountersue" seems to be raising a point mentioned in other response threads: the attorney-client privilege.

If so, YSCS is severely confused, as said privilege has been well established in case law. YSCS also doesn't understand the the basis of such privilege in that it is the side-effect of personal service to a particular individual. Physicians and psychologists have similar privileges, for similar reasons.

I like this response on another thread: "Lawyers don't have any such protection. There is an attorney/client privilege, but that privilege belongs solely to the client, and it exists because no attorney could effectively represent his or her client without open and honest communication."

Tue, 03/11/2008 - 3:51pm


Prof. Reynolds is an attorney, and as such enjoys, and presumably is very much against restricting, the attorney-client privilege. That privilege does indeed allow an attorney to say and do nothing, for example, if he knows his client is guilty and someone else is wrongly convicted of the crime. Or, for that matter, to know his client is guilty and yet work for his acquittal.

In my judgment, that privilege should be curtailed. It should be illegal to pursue a not guilty verdict for a client you know is guilty, and illegal not to reveal any and all information needed to reverse the conviction of an innocent person. Yes, it means guilty defendants can't talk as openly to their attorneys as they can now, and that therefore guilty defendants will not be defended as well as they are today. I fail to see what harm that does.

On the other side, any prosecutor or law enforcement officer who fabricates evidence or suborns perjury to convict someone should be sentenced to the maximum possible penalty for the crime being tried, up to and including the death penalty.