Matt Towery

This column won't be popular with most journalists. But in case they've missed it, poll after poll shows journalists aren't all that popular with the American people. So I'm sure the thick-skinned in media are used to taking these things in stride.

 There's a concerted movement at play that seeks to create a sort of protective shield for reporters who do not want to reveal their confidential sources to law enforcement or the courts.

 Language in the proposed laws to shield journalists may or may not constitute true immunity from revealing sources; their true extent remains to be seen. Regardless, the spirit of this legislation warrants serious scrutiny.

 This has come about because of the jailing or threatened jailing of reporters who have refused to reveal confidential sources to law enforcement investigators and grand juries looking into criminal matters. In each case, the reporter's information and its source were considered critical to the investigation.

 I admire professionals who stick to their guns in defending and upholding the ethics of their trade. For that matter, I admire and respect journalists as a whole. I know plenty of them, and most are talented, industrious and committed.

 However that may be, it seems the world of media -- somewhat self-righteous at its worst -- is in a bit of a philosophical pickle on this one.

 For starters, many of the supporters of the notion to protect anonymous sources are the same publishers, editors and broadcasters who helped make this the year of "open government" and "open records."

 When Congress or various state legislatures have moved to make certain government information unavailable to the public because they said it could trigger some dire circumstance, the journalism community has emphatically and immediately declared that the public has a "right to know," consequences be damned.

 Not really. Not unless I missed that part of the U.S. Constitution when I studied it in law school.

 My recollection is that the Bill of Rights confers on the media and everybody else the right to free speech. But I don't recall the so-called "fourth estate" actually having been referenced in the Constitution. Nor do I remember any amendment giving the public a blanket right to know each and every detail of their government's operation.

 Let's turn the tables on this extra-constitutional "right" that so many journalism students today accept as a given. They seem to believe reporters should be able to demand from government the disclosure to them of documents, verbal information and virtually any other discoverable material because the public has an inalienable right to see and hear all.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
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