The Obama administration's efforts to impede Senate approval of a law designed to protect reporters from punishment if they refuse to divulge confidential sources are both surprising and utterly disappointing.
As a candidate, Sen. Obama endorsed the "media shield" that allows courts to decide whether a confidential source deserves protection. (So did Sen. John McCain, the Republican contender.) As a senator, Mr. Obama co-sponsored an earlier version of the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering.
Now that he's the decider, Mr. Obama has developed cold feet. Last week, he let lawmakers know that he wanted the bill changed in a way that would cripple key provisions on when and how to invoke protections for reporters and their sources. This would gut the essential provisions of the proposed law.
No one disputes that there are instances when the government should have the right to compel information to safeguard the public. That is why all versions of the bill offer a qualified, rather than absolute privilege, with courts providing meaningful judicial review to determine when the "media shield" should come into play.
It also requires prosecutors to make reporters the last stop, not the first stop, for finding the source of information. More important, it offers a balancing test that weighs the needs of the government for information against "the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information."
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