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Beltway Confidential

Senate journalist shield law gets mixed reviews

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Beltway Confidential,Congress,Mark Tapscott,Senate,First Amendment,Media

Is that journalist shield law originated by Sen. Diane Feinsten and now working its way through Congress an increase in legal protection for whistle-blowing journalists or a government licensing program for reporters?

And what about those new guidelines issued earlier this year by the Department of Justice for how it deals with journalists and the leakers they often depend upon in government?

Two people for whom I have immense respect offer interesting assessments today.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor and proprietor of Instapundit, said this on the DOJ guidelines in a July 15, 2013, column in USA Today:

"Does this policy protect anyone doing journalism, or just members of the establishment? The Justice Department talks about protection for 'news media' (the guidelines don't use the word 'press') but doesn't provide any guidance on just who that is.

"Presumably, if you're drawing a paycheck from the New York Times or Gannett (the parent company of USA TODAY), you're covered. (But note that, not too long ago, the Obama administration was claiming that Fox News, home of James Rosen, one of the key targets of recent Justice Department snooping, was not a 'legitimate news organization.') If the Justice Department can pick and choose in this fashion, the guidelines don't mean much.

"But even if the guidelines extend to everyone who draws a paycheck as a reporter or pundit -- hey, I guess that would include me -- that's still not enough. In this era of blogging, social media and independent journalism, there are an awful lot of people doing serious journalism who aren't drawing a paycheck from a media organization. They deserve protection, too. Journalism is an activity, not a profession."

Go here for the rest of Reynolds' column, which is especially worth reading because his life's work is knowing and teaching the law, and because he's one of the original and most influential bloggers. And Reynolds provides additional links on the issue here.

Then there is Charles Glasser, once described as Bloomberg's "resident pit-bull terrier," who recomends a story in the Los Angeles Times by reporter David Savage. In his story about the Feinstein bill gaining approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Savage observes:

"Feinstein introduced an amendment that defines a 'covered journalist' as someone who gathers and reports news for 'an entity or service that disseminates news and information.'

"The definition includes freelancers, part-timers and student journalists, and it permits a judge to go further and extend the protections to any 'legitimate news-gathering activities.'

"But the bill also makes it clear that the legal protection is not absolute. Federal officials still may 'compel disclosure' from a journalist who has information that could stop or prevent crimes such as murder, kidnapping or child abduction or prevent 'acts of terrorism' or significant harm to national security."

The full Savage story can be found here.

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