Shield Law Followup

SHIELD LAW FOLLOWUP…Atrios comments on the federal shield law for journalists that recently passed the House:

I don’t really like any shield law which attempts to define journalism as a class rather than an act, I don’t like that such law uses an income test to define that class, and I certainly don’t understand why the emphasis is on protecting the journalists from testifying rather than the whistleblowers who need protecting.

Yay whistleblower protection. Boo defining journalism based on whether it makes you money.

I agree in part and disagree in part. I agree that defining “journalist” as someone who makes a sufficient amount of money doing journalism is a lousy idea. This was almost certainly done as a way to prevent abuse (i.e., mob figures starting up blogs and then claiming they don’t have to testify in court because they disseminate information), but it’s a dumb way of addressing the problem. There are perfectly good ways of defining the activity of journalism, and judges are perfectly capable of then making common sense rulings about someone’s bona fides. They do it all the time.

But I disagree on the whistleblower thing. I don’t have any issue with strengthening whistleblower laws (though I think enforcing the ones we already have is probably a better place to start), but that really doesn’t solve the journalism problem. When reporters get leaks from anonymous sources, those sources don’t want to know that they’ll be “protected.” They want to know that they won’t be revealed. Period. Nothing else even comes close to providing the security they need against an administration (anyone’s administration) that will do whatever it can to ruin their career, law or no law.

Bottom line: the Senate version of the bill is better. But even if the definition of journalist doesn’t end up being exactly what bloggers would like it to be, it’s still a worthwhile piece of legislation to get on the books. Once the principle of a reporter’s privilege is established, it’s always possible to make changes later. Getting the privilege established in the first place is the hard part.

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