Monday, October 5, 2009

Oct 2 2009

         People are talking here this week, again, about whether Congress should pass a reporters' shield law.  That's a law that says, if a reporter publishes classified information given him by anonymous sources, he or she can't be send to prison for refusing to disclose who those sources are.      As a senator, President Obama had co-sponsored such a bill, but this week the White House backed a weaker version. The administration version says prosecutors should exhaust other methods for finding the source, but it adds that wouldn't apply if the leaked material could cause "significant" harm to national security.  And the bill tells judges to be deferential to the executive branch's statements about whether a particular leak might cause such harm.         Well, significance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  The reporter will probably think that he is exposing some government mess-up that the voters ought to know about.  The government will probably think national security is involved, demand the name of the leaker and want to send the reporter to jail if he refuses to disclose it.      Reporters do sometimes go to jail in these cases.  You may remember the New York Times' Judith Miller, who was subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame-CIA case. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a sponsor of the bill, says at least nineteen journalists have been subpoenaed since 2001;   four have been imprisoned.      The bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Specter says he hopes the full Senate will pass it.  Then, he says, Obama can veto it if that's what he wants to do.  Sounds like a plan to me.
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