Jonah Goldberg

That is not what those pushing federal shield laws say. They say that journalists should be immune not merely from testifying in such cases, they should be immune from prosecution - even if their reporting is what gets someone killed.

That is simply outrageous. Laws to protect the identities of mob informants, CIA agents and the like are designed to protect people from very real harm. Why should journalists get a free pass when it comes to exposing them? Particularly in the Internet age, when everyone can be a journalist, why do we want to give journalists - even bloggers - a right no one else has?

Oh, but what about lawyers, psychiatrists and the like? Aren't they exempt from some laws? Aren't they allowed to keep confidences? Yes and no. Lawyers and doctors are not permitted to enable a crime. Period. If a client tells his lawyer, "I'm going to murder so-and-so," the lawyer cannot be a party to it and must do everything he can to prevent it. Moreover, any such conversation is not privileged. The confusion here is that when I tell my shrink my friend Todd is a CIA agent, no harm has been done. When I tell a reporter and the next day it's in Newsweek, real harm has been done.

But don't tell that to the sanctimonious priesthood of the fourth estate. Just this week NPR's Daniel Schorr flatly whined that the only reason journalists don't "enjoy a first amendment privilege to protect their sources" the way doctors and lawyers can protect the confidentiality of their patients and clients is that the ungrateful American public doesn't value a free press as much as it values the services of doctors and lawyers.

This is sanctimonious hooey, and we shouldn't let the press - which has an enormous, gigantic, colossal mother-of-all-conflicts-of-interest - get away with asserting such things unchallenged. The elite press wants laws which codify their holy status in our culture, and the reporting and commentary reflects that. Forget liberal and conservative, this is the First Among Equals of media bias.

Look, it's fine to make reasonable allowances for journalists in a free society. So if the DOJ's guidelines say don't come down hard on journalists unless it's absolutely necessary, that's fine by me. But a free society is also a society of laws. And journalists cannot be above the law, even if they report they are.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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