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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

 
Please pass a new law that will prevent me from doing what I didn't have to do but did anyway

by digby

Charlie Savage reports:

The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.

The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009. Called the Free Flow of Information Act, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. But while it was awaiting a floor vote, a furor over leaking arose after WikiLeaks began publishing archives of secret government documents, and the bill never received a vote.

Yeah well, it wasn't much of a bill anyway.

And there's a reason why:

White House Proposes Changes in Bill Protecting Reporters’ Confidentiality

By CHARLIE SAVAGE

Published: September 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has told lawmakers that it opposes legislation that could protect reporters from being imprisoned if they refuse to disclose confidential sources who leak material about national security, according to several people involved with the negotiations.

The administration this week sent to Congress sweeping revisions to a “media shield” bill that would significantly weaken its protections against forcing reporters to testify.

The bill includes safeguards that would require prosecutors to exhaust other methods for finding the source of the information before subpoenaing a reporter, and would balance investigators’ interests with “the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information.”

But under the administration’s proposal, such procedures would not apply to leaks of a matter deemed to cause “significant” harm to national security. Moreover, judges would be instructed to be deferential to executive branch assertions about whether a leak caused or was likely to cause such harm, according to officials familiar with the proposal.

The two Democratic senators who have been prime sponsors of the legislation, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said on Wednesday that they were disappointed by the administration’s position.

Mr. Specter called the proposed changes “totally unacceptable,” saying they would gut meaningful judicial review. And in a statement, Mr. Schumer said: “The White House’s opposition to the fundamental essence of this bill is an unexpected and significant setback. It will make it hard to pass this legislation.”

But Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, called the proposed changes appropriate and argued that the administration was making a significant concession by accepting some judicial review. He noted that the Bush administration had strongly opposed such a bill as an incursion into executive power.

So it was extremely watered down, at the behest of the administration, before it passed the committee. Still, it's better than nothing. As Charlie Savage points out in the article it would have possibly prevented the Justice Department from doing an end run around the media companies to issue their subpoenas. On the other hand, the Justice Department could easily have acted as if the law the administration ostensibly wanted was in place. There was no law saying they had to do what they did.

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