Sen. Schumer Pushes Back Against WH Effort To Weaken Shield Law

October 7, 2009

Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) is one of the few Senators with enough moxie to stand up to the Obama administration's effort to gut a federal law protecting reporters who maintain the confidentiality of their sources.

Some 49 states have "shield laws" of some kind that in most cases protect reporters from being compelled by courts to reveal the identities of confidential sources. But there is no federal statute protecting the "reporters' privilege." The House passed such a bill by a wide 398-21 margin in 2007.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, both President Barack Obama and GOP candidate John McCain promised to support a federal shield law.

Obama stunned media groups this fall when he reversed field, broke his campaign promise, and opposed a strong shield law, insisting that faceless "security" bureaucrats inside the executive branch be the ones to decide when reporters' privilege was in the national interest — rather than courts, as he had promised during the campaign. Obama had gotten a lot of media coverage the first day of his administration, when he made a big display of his claims to support open government and a free press.

The bill is currently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That panel has approved an amendment taking the privilege away from new media reporters.

"The administration's opposition to the core of this bill came as a complete surprise and doesn't show much concern for compromise," Schumer told the Associated Press. "This turns the bill's near-certain passage into an uphill fight."

"White House spokesman Ben LaBolt says negotiations are continuing, and President Barack Obama supports a strong media-shield law," the AP reported.

More than 70 journalism organizations, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, support the bill.