16 December 2009
Federal Shield Law: Why Don't We Have One?
A shield law, according to dictionary.com, is a law protecting journalists from forced disclosure of confidential sources of information. Since I am a journalism major, I am vastly interested in any topic related to journalistic ethics and safety.
There are 40 shield laws in various states in the United States with various degrees of protection for journalists. What happened to the others? No one knows.
There is no federal shield law.
The question is why?
I have an answer.
The court wants to be able to force journalists to testify. They understand that people are more willing - and closer - to the free press than to attorneys. They are far more likely to spill their guts to a journalist, who just wants to protect the public's right to know, than to an attorney, who usually has more dubious reasons for questioning someone. Also, attorneys are hampered to dig for information, while journalists basically have free reign. If they don't know it, they can find out. If they can't find out, they can make it up and no one cares. Just kidding. Almost everything that true journalists report are fact. We are scientists, in a way.
And journalists can find out. They know that somewhere, someone knows something who is willing to talk, especially if they will be protected.
It is a matter of trust. The public trusts the media. The public does not trust slick attorneys. I don't blame them, especially when they forget what justice is.
During the Civil Rights Movement, the media enhanced and kept segregation part of the public's attention. They advocated for it. The White House, the courts, Congress, the states, they all wanted it to go away (as we saw with Kennedy's silence and Johnson's appalling lack of federal troops). The media made sure it did not fall through the cracks.
And we call the media corrupt. Ha! The media is the only reason we don't have more corruption. We are the watchdogs of society, the fourth branch in the checks and balances. If the media didn't exist, segregation would still be around. Thank God for the media!
Lots of Love,