Bipartisan bills to create a federal shield for reporters have been kicking around Washington for a few years now, and an Arlen Spector (R-PA) version is still pending in the Senate. Several members of the Bush administration have publicly opposed the bill, and two put it to Senate Democrats in writing. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell were the authors of the veto-threatening letter, according to the Associated Press. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff are also on record as opposing the bill. The thrust of the bill is to allow reporters to protect the identity of sources.
The matter was prominently in the news after the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame was leaked to the press, with New York Times reporter Judith Miller spending time in jail to avoid revealing a source. Ironically, the sources Miller was protecting were members of the very administration that opposes the bill now.
RBR/TVBR observation: The bill provides hoops and hurdles which if successfully negotiated allow the government to demand the identity of a news source. Support on Capitol Hill has been solid, and the shield concept has been endorsed by both presidential candidates. Can the Senate pass Specter’s bill with a veto-proof majority? Perhaps, but even if they don’t, we should see this again when the 111th Congress is seated, when it will likely receive a friendlier White House reception.