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Media shield stalls in Senate

By The Associated Press
07.30.08

WASHINGTON — A bill to protect journalists from having to reveal their sources in some federal courts stalled in the Senate today, the latest victim of a partisan fight over what to do about gas prices.

Republicans blocked the measure, saying the Senate should act instead on an energy bill that would promote more domestic oil and gas production.

Democrats wanted to put aside the energy measure to debate and pass the media bill, which would shield reporters from being forced by federal prosecutors to reveal their sources, except in certain circumstances.

Anti-terrorism cases are exempted, for example, as is information that could stop a murder or kidnapping.

On a 51-43 vote, the bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence and Sen. Richard Lugar, both R-Ind., fell nine votes short of the 60 it would have needed to move forward over the GOP objections.

The Bush administration and many congressional Republicans are strongly opposed to the media shield, arguing the bill could damage national security by harming prosecutors' ability to track leaks.

Proponents argue that confidentiality has been crucial to journalists' pursuit of important stories, and that a recent flurry of attempts to compel reporters to cough up their sources' identities is proof that the legislation is needed.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the measure "protects both the freedom of the press and the security of our citizens. In a free and democratic country, we should be able to do both."

Republicans said they were uncomfortable about limiting the legislation to certain people, contending the government shouldn't determine who gets journalistic protections and who doesn't.

"Congress would be deciding who is a legitimate journalist and who is not, and I, for one, am not comfortable with the federal government licensing journalists," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The bipartisan group pushing the bill was offering changes to address GOP criticisms.

Their proposal would have made it easier for prosecutors to compel reporters to reveal sources in cases involving leaks of classified information.

It defined a journalist as anyone who regularly gathers and reports information of public interest with the intent of disseminating it to the public.

Proponents of a federal shield law got momentum from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's decision to subpoena reporters to testify against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, once a White House aide, in a case that grew out of Fitzgerald's leak investigation. Libby was convicted of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI; his sentence was commuted by President Bush.

"Reporters have been intimidated — a chilling effect — by the subpoenas which have been issued," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the lead Republican sponsor.

A similar measure overwhelmingly passed the House in October.


Previous
Lawmakers chide attorney general for opposition to shield bill
Michael Mukasey tells House committee that current laws limiting government's ability to force reporters to reveal sources are adequate. 07.24.08

Related

House votes to give journalists shield for confidential sources

Co-sponsor Mike Pence, R-Ind., says measure 'is not about protecting reporters, it's about protecting the public's right to know.' 10.17.07

Attorneys general back federal media shield
37 state officials sign on to letter; measure faces uncertain future in Senate as some Republicans strongly oppose bill allowing reporters to protect sources. 06.20.08

State shield statutes & leading cases
By Bill Kenworthy State-by-state compilation of journalist-shield statutes, cases. 10.17.05

Journalist ‘shield’ – balancing openness, security
By Gene Policinski Under a Senate bill, journalists would be protected from having to reveal confidential sources — but not if they witnessed a crime or if there were an imminent threat to life or national security. 10.07.07

Libby’s legacy: The conservative case for a national shield law
By Michael Berry Prosecutors aren't just subpoenaing reporters in cases where national security might be compromised — they're going after reporters’ sources for stories on athletes’ steroid use and street protests. 01.18.08

Much is at stake in journalist-shield bill
By Gene Policinski A look at issues, settled and unsettled, in the proposed Free Flow of Information Act in the Senate that would protect the press from having to divulge confidential sources. 08.10.08

Shield laws


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