Pressing for Press Freedom

The unanimous vote last week by three federal appeals court judges - that two news reporters should be jailed for refusing to give their sources to a grand jury - stands as an unfortunate reminder that those who value the First Amendment's protection of the press must remain vigilant.

Why? Because if a reporter can't protect a source so that information can freely flow to the public, then one of democracy's underpinnings - the public's right to know - will erode.

That said, the case at hand isn't clear-cut. It involves a charge that the White House leaked the name of a CIA operative to the reporters, possibly violating a 1982 law that makes such disclosure a federal offense in some instances. So the reporters may have witnessed, and abetted, a federal crime.

Still, the primary focus here should be on the possible crime of leaking the operative's name, not the reporters, who rightly refuse to give up their sources.

It's disturbing that in the last several months, nearly a dozen reporters have been pushed by courts to hand over the names of confidential sources. If that trend continues, Congress should take a closer look at enacting a federal shield law to enhance the protection journalists should inherently have in a free society.

When the media are pressured to reveal sources and threatened with jail time, it's the public that ultimately loses out if they crumble. Additionally, that sends a chilling message to potential news sources, who could logically feel much more reluctant to talk to journalists if they think their identities will be revealed.

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