On my morning ride I listened as conservative talk show host Bill Bennett worried over the damage to our national security that might result from the passage of a shield law for reporters. The law would shield reporters from being compelled to reveal their confidential sources. According to the L.A. Times, Bennet's worries are unfounded.
Who is covered
"A person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain."
How it would work
Federal authorities may not compel a reporter to testify or reveal a source unless a court determines disclosure would:
* Provide critical information in a criminal case.
* Prevent an act of terrorism.
* Prevent imminent death.
* Reveal the identity of someone who has revealed a trade secret or private health information.
* Help authorities investigate the unauthorized leak of classified information that would cause "significant and articulable harm" to national security.
Sources: H.R. 2101, the Free Flow of Information Act
If L.A. Times reporting is accurate, reporters would not be shielded when, among other things, national security is at stake. The law could have quite the opposite effect. As things stand right now, reporters claim blanket immunity, albeit one the courts don't recognize, from being compelled to reveal sources under any circumstances.
Let's imagine this law is passed and signed as investigations continue to go forward into leaks of the various ways we have been conducting terrorist surveillance. What will the New York Times and the Washington Post do then, when the law explicitly and specifically spells out when a reporter may be compelled to reveal sources?