Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Call for Shield Laws

Let me begin by saying that I love journalism almost as much as I hate it. A contradiction, sure, but it sums up my feelings of a profession I had originally thought I wanted to be a part of, but now know I want to stay very far away from. I've worked off and on as a reporter for most of my life and found out that I liked the writing, but hated the reporting. The go-for-the-jugular spirit that a lot of journalists possess just isn't in me - and when I did go for the jugular, I hated myself for it. So, as much as the process disgusts me (probably exacerbated by the fact that I was part of it for so long), I believe the role of journalism is incredibly important to our society. It's so important that lawmakers should pass legislation shielding journalists from revealing their sources.

The questioning of reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper this week during the trial of Scooter Libby could set a dangerous precedent that will be detrimental to the role of the Fourth Estate for years to come. Now, don't get me wrong, I would love to see Libby rot in a jail cell for his role in outing Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent (along with Karl Rove and Lord I mean Dick Cheney); but not at the expense of ruining an important part of our democratic process. Granted, Miller and Cooper may have been sloppy and used as malleable pawns in the Bush Administration's smear efforts in discrediting Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson; but that doesn't mean the whole process needs to be destroyed.

There are no national shield laws, which leaves many professionals vulnerable to prosecutors and other bullies who threaten jail time in their search for leakers and whistleblowers. Regardless of any of her failings, Miller spent 85 days in jail before surrendering to Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's pressure to talk. That is an incredible sacrifice, and one that she should never have endured. But as much as I may dislike Miller's methods or protecting scumbags like Libby and mean Rove, they are necessary evils.

Republican support for shield laws will probably never be as strong as it will be when Libby is convicted. Supporters of a national shield law should use this momentum. If political parties have proven anything, it's that they support or oppose issues depending on what they can get out of them without thought of the future. Would Republicans be as gung ho of giving the executive branch as much power as they have over the past six years if Clinton was still President (or if Clinton 2 takes the White House in 2008)? Do you think the Democrats would complain?

Is there any hope that national shield legislation would pass? Probably not a hell of a lot. Nobody likes reporters. It's a thankless job. But without them, this country would be in a bigger mess than it already is.

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