Let's start from the common premise that a robust and free press and fair and effective law enforcement are both vital to our democracy. Since the Supreme Court ruled 35 years ago that reporters are obligated to comply with grand jury subpoenas, there has been no shortage of whistle-blowers -- from Watergate to Abu Ghraib. And the Justice Department operates under rigorous regulations restricting the issuance of subpoenas to journalists. These regulations, which require balancing the competing public interests in law enforcement and the flow of information to the media, have yielded only a trickle of subpoenas.
Against this background, a compelling case has not been made for jettisoning the legal framework that has guided this process for the past 35 years.
A threshold question lawmakers should ask is whether reporters will obey the law if it is enacted. They should ask because the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press calls for a shield law while urging journalists to defy the law when a court upholds a subpoena for source information. Any shield bill should require that a person seeking its protection first provide the subpoenaed information under seal to the court, to be released only if the court orders the information disclosed.
If congress were serious about the free flow of information they would pass meaningful whistle blower protection.