Concerning a Federal Media Shield

Mark Grannis is the attorney for Steven Hatfill, the scientist whose reputation was attacked by anonymous leaks during the anthrax investigation. Grannis spotted our commentary yesterday about the proposed federal media shield legislation and sends along a link to the statement that came from Hatfill’s camp after the Justice Department agreed to pay $5.8 million to settle his lawsuit against the government. The Justice Department denies any guilt, however. (AP story.)

Anyway, from Hatfill’s attorneys, the statement. It’s pretty fierce, but then, Hatfill was wronged and spent seven years trying to restore his reputation. Excerpt:

To be clear, this was not a case in which a courageous whistleblower called government malfeasance to the public’s attention. It was instead a case in which the government used the press, violating federal privacy laws in the process. Almost no one in the press recognized this at the time, and an alarming number of journalists refuse to admit it even today. Journalists who genuinely aspire to serve a “watchdog” function by alerting the public to abuses of government power must understand that if they pass this kind of information along, they are allowing themselves to become tools of oppression. The collusive relationship between unethical officials and uncritical reporters, which caused such great damage to Dr. Hatfill’s personal life and professional reputation, must not be treated by journalists as if it were a respectable method of newsgathering.

We can only hope that the individuals and institutions involved are sufficiently chastened by this episode to deter similar destruction of private citizens in the future – and that we will all read anonymously sourced news reports with a great deal more skepticism in the future.

At the Reasonable Minds forum, Grannis adds a comment: “In response to one question I received by e-mail: Yes, this does end the litigation against the government. No, it does not alter my opinion that the reporter’s shield legislation currently being considered by Congress is an outrage. We need to do much, much more to protect privacy and reputation in this country, and whatever laws we pass for those purposes become totally unenforceable if reporters get a license to obstruct justice.”


Leave a Reply