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FOI-the weather’s gotten worse since 2000

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Senator Arlen Spector yesterday focused new attention on today’s hot question of journalist privilege.
Read this NYT article for info on the cancellation at the last minute, by the representative of the current Republican administration’s justice department, Deputy Attorney General James Comey. His chilling written testimony prompted more than one senator to call for another hearing to get him there to answer questions about the administration’s opposition to changing the law.
NYT reporter Judith Miller was not there either, as she is otherwise occupied–scrubbing her cold jail cell floor with a toothbrush? But Matt Cooper was at the table, along with several thoughtful witnesses giving feedback to lawmakers on the bill.
This hearing is being held prior to pending bipartisan legislation authored by Senators Lugar and Dodd. The proposed law would grant new protection to journalists from being required to reveal their confidential sources, the so-called “federal shield law.”
For decades and decades, prosecutors and judges did not routinely go after reporters to force them to “out” the people whom they promised to protect. Those hard nosed tactics have not been a particular problem. The temperate climate of press freedom to be our eyes and ears was adequate to assure rather healthy transparency government; there were few clouds on the horizon.
But that was before this current Perfect Republican Storm. A secretive adminstration took over, they got a large number of conservative jurists appointed, and compliant Republicans took over the leadership of Congress. In the opinion of many, that huge change began a very different news and information climate. It has gotten positively chilly out there, and we citizens must get out there and brave the elements.
Fortunately the states are far ahead of the feds on this. We hope that Congress can look to those more primary legislative laboratories for answers to how to make First Amendment law consistent nationally. And then the flow of information, about what our government is doing to us, will get back to its previously healthy atmosphere.


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