The American public often finds out about what government and other power brokers are doing through a free press.
Here's just one example. Rhode Island reporter Jim Taricani in 2005 dug up an FBI videotape showing a top aide to the mayor accepting a bribe. He played an important role in exposing this corruption.
There's a catch, however. The reporter was sentenced by a judge for refusing to reveal who gave him the tape.
To unveil the cloak of secrecy and uncover abuses of power, news gatherers often depend on individuals coming forward with information – whistle-blowers, leakers, call them what you will – who expect the press to protect their identity. Further, the public expects news gatherers to act independently, not as an arm of government.
That's why most states, including California, have laws that recognize that protecting reporters' sources serves the public interest, even when it makes government exhaust all reasonable alternatives for turning up information before turning to the press as a surrogate investigative arm.
There is no law at the national level, however.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.