For the reporter in the street, help is at hand. According to Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Jim Jordan (OH-04) the help is in the form of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2017 (H.R.4382), a bipartisan federal shield law that would protect the public’s right to know by safeguarding a free and independent press. The legislation would establish a federal statutory privilege that would protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and ensure that they can do their jobs without fear of imprisonment or intimidation.
The legislation was introduced after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee refused to commit to not jailing journalists for doing their jobs.
Although many states have shield laws or some sort of reporter’s privilege, no such protection exists at the federal level. Dozens of journalists have served jail time, including former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who served more than 80 days in jail for refusing to reveal a confidential source in 2005 – and me.
I went to jail four times to protect a confidential source in a case in Texas 30 years ago.
“The First Amendment provides for a free press, but that guarantee means nothing if reporters cannot protect whistleblowers and confidential sources, or if reporters have to live in fear of prosecution or jail time,” said Raskin. “When the press is unable to do its job, the American people – and our ability to function as a democracy – suffer. A free press is the people’s best friend and the tyrant’s worst enemy.”
“All of the rights protected in the First Amendment need to be defended,” said Jordan. “From the religious liberty in our churches, to the free speech of students on college campuses, to the ability of reporters to protect the confidentiality of their sources, these fundamental American freedoms must be strengthened and preserved.”
Raskin and Jordan’s proposal for a federal shield law is identical to a previous bipartisan bill (H.R. 2102), which passed the House with overwhelming support on a 398-21 vote. The 2007 legislation was championed and cosponsored by Vice President Mike Pence when he was a Congressman representing Indiana’s 6th District.
“Every day, we rely on the press to hold our government accountable, educate us about issues of public interest, and keep the American people informed,” Raskin continued. “Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’ I’m with Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers. We need to make good on the constitutional promise of a free press—one that is shielded from threats of jail time and criminal prosecution for performing their critical work. It’s time to pass a federal shield law to protect the press, whose work is essential to protect strong democracy.”
There are those who believe the “Fake Media” doesn’t need this help. There are those who believe we abuse our rights.
There are those who have no idea. Every major story starts with someone telling us something someone else doesn’t want us to know. Sometimes people put their lives in danger to tell us information – as in my case.
Sometimes people put their careers and their futures on the line merely to let everyone else know something is going wrong somewhere and it needs to change.
In this day and age where our own president disparages us and calls us the “Enemy of the people,” there can be no backing down from what we do and how we do it.
For every reporter or journalist who has done things the wrong way there are a 100 if not a thousand who are doing the right thing for the right reason.
President Obama jailed whistleblowers. Trump wants to end any negative stories on him by pressuring us into being his cadre of propaganda writers.
Nixon decried the “Witch Hunt” by the press that brought him down – and he was guilty of treason in the Vietnam War to boot.
President Clinton fought with us over what the “definition of is – is.”
In short every president has hated the press.
Many governors despise us. There are Congressman and Senators who’d rather face an angry mob than face an angry press corps.
That’s as it should be.
We are the court of last resort.
With all the press does wrong, and we often get many things wrong, we have to be guaranteed access to information or we will only get worse.
Soon will come a day when all you’ll see on television is an extended foray into “TMZ” as hard news.
It should not happen.
This legislation will guarantee the pillars of Democracy for the next generation and this legislation must pass.