A New York Times Editorial ...
Freedom of the Press
Published: September 17, 2009
Congress and President Obama face a test Thursday of their commitment to freedom of the press and to holding government accountable. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider a proposed federal shield law that would protect the public’s right to learn vital information about the workings of its government. But some senators are trying to weaken the bill, and the White House has sent mixed signals.
It is critical that the committee approves a strong version of the law to ensure that the news media are free to report news obtained from confidential sources.
Without the ability of reporters and news organizations to protect confidential sources, many important reports about illegal, incompetent or embarrassing behavior that the government is determined to conceal would never see the light of day. In recent years, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the secret C.I.A. prisons in Eastern Europe for terrorists and warrantless wiretapping all came to light through the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
If reporters can be hauled into court and forced to reveal their sources, it makes it hard for them to gain the trust of people who have information that the public needs to know, and it makes it hard for their news organizations to publish or broadcast those reports.
The bipartisan bill is backed by Senators Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania; Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York; Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; and others. It would establish a calibrated right of reporters not to reveal the name of confidential sources. It already contains many conditions and qualifications to protect national security. For example, it expressly does not cover information gained from terrorists and agents of foreign powers.
A question for the senators in committee is whether to retain a balancing test on national security. A draft version of the bill provides that in leaks of information related to national security, a judge must weigh the security interest against the public’s interest in learning the information. The news media would not always prevail, but it would give them a chance to make the case before a judge that their sources should be protected.
As a senator, Mr. Obama was an outspoken supporter of a federal shield law, and he co-sponsored a strong bill. On the campaign trail, he said a shield law was important to ensure that there is appropriate oversight over the government. Judges, he said, are generally pretty good at weighing the competing interests.
As president, Mr. Obama’s position has been harder to discern. He has been disappointingly protective of executive branch prerogatives on issues like detainee policies and the state secrets doctrine. The administration has been sending mixed signals on the shield law, but there have been recent indications that it may yet weigh in with senators in favor of a good bill.
We hope it does. Many believe that the First Amendment and the right to free speech are all that are necessary to ensure a robust press and the free exchange of ideas. But the right to collect important information, and to protect the sources who provide it, is also vital.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: Does the Mohegan Tribal Government try to stop Mohegan Tribal Members from exercising their Freedoms of Press and Speech? Does the Council of Elders along with the Tribal Council try and control what people say? Is the Mohegan Tribal Government a secret society? Is that the Oral Tradition of the Mohegan Tribe? Could it be that government officials don't like criticism and therefore try to punish its members? Isn't the Mohegan Tribal Government there to protect and defend its members rights? What do you think?
THESE ARE THE OPINIONS OF BROKENWING.