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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Don't shield me, please

I was strongly against media  shield laws when they were being proposed by Republicans like Mike Pence, so I guess I can be strongly against Chuck Schumer's version with being accused of partisan hackery. Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate minority whip, correctly complains that the bill would amount to government licensing of journalists, which would go against everything the First Amendment stands for:

Schumer's proposal would exempt a “covered journalist” from subpoenas and other legal requirements to expose their confidential sources in leak investigations and other areas. Other lawmakers have proposed similar ideas in the past, but the effort gained new momentum after a series of revelations about controversial tactics the Justice Department was using to target journalists.

For instance, the Department of Justice secretly monitored Fox News reporter James Rosen in the course of a leak investigation, even claiming in a court filing he was a subject of investigation himself. In another instance, the government had secretly monitored numerous phone lines used by the Associated Press, including one in the U.S. Capitol.

Cornyn says Schumer's proposal is fatally flawed and may be an unworkable idea altogether.

“They want to pick and choose which journalists are covered,” the Texan Republican told Breitbart News. “In other words, if you’re a blogger they might not cover you, but if you work for the New York Times they might. Given the changes in the way we get information and the way we consume news, that really smacks to me in essence of government licensing who’s an official ‘journalist’ for the purposes of a shield law and who’s not. If there is one thing I can glean from the First Amendment, it is that government should not be in the business of licensing the news media.”

In practice, defining who is considered a “journalist” and protected under the law from having to disclose confidential sources is a thorny legal problem. On the one hand, the law's drafters don't want to provide blanket immunity to everyone. But anointing a government-approved class of scribes cuts against the nature of journalism, which almost by definition is frequently critical of the government.

I have always been amazed -- and dismayed -- that so few journalists seem to understand this. Their clamoring for a shield law just baffles me. The press simply cannot be a watchdog of government if government gets to decide who is and who is not a legitimate member of the press. With the advent of the digital age, we are truly in the era of citizen-journalist. Anyone can be a reporter, and the more the merrier. Keep the government as far away as possible.