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.