When the new Congress convenes next month, it should pass a Federal shield law enabling journalists to protect their secret sources. The threats to press freedom are growing and Congress is the only recourse.
The courts are useless. In a string of recent decisions, judges have consistently refused to recognize a media privilege based on the First Amendment. Just this week, the Supreme Court ruled, yet again, against the press and allowed prosecutors to examine the phone records of two New York Times reporters.
The independence of American journalists has eroded so badly that Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog group, ranked the United States 53rd among 168 nations in its “press freedom index” for 2006. Such bastions of liberty as Bulgaria (35th) and South Africa (44th) outpaced the “land of the free,” which tied with Botswana and Tonga.
Only four years ago the U.S. ranked 17th, and Reporters Without Borders blames the slide on President Bush, who has “used the pretext of ‘national security’ to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his ‘war on terrorism.’” But the car-bombing of the media is not limited to national security cases. Two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle face 18 months in jail for refusing to divulge their sources for a story breaking open the baseball drug scandal.