Maybe We Need to Think This Federal Media Shield Through

By September 18, 2008General

Time is running out in Congress for action on a proposed federal media shield legislation, and that’s all for the best. The intentions of supporters of bills like S. 2035, the Free Flow of Information Act, are commendable enough, as they seek to ensure First Amendment freedoms for reporters and sources.

But the public debate has been remarkably narrow, with the major media outlets and the Administration arguing only one side of the story — national security and leaks — ignoring other considerations such as malicious invasion of individual privacy and the business world’s right to protect its intellectual property. In their energetic lobbying campaign for the legislation, journalists have also mixed reporting and advocacy more than usual, even as they failed to report that advocacy.

Today’s news about hackers stealing Gov. Sarah Palin’s private e-mail should surely give pause.  Gawker.com published the information to cause political damage, mock the governor, and demonstrate its ability to do whatever the hell it wants to. Should that theft — a federal crime and an invasion of privacy that serves, we argue, no public interest — be protected via a federal medial shield? Gawker is an awful, malign website (see Michelle Malkin’s reporting for more) that specializes in personal attacks, but First Amendment absolutists would argue that’s exactly the kind of outlet that deserves protection.

From Time: “The Secret Service requested copies of the leaked e-mails from the Associated Press, but the wire service did not comply.”

Why? What principle is being served? “We’re journalists. We don’t have to.” Is that sufficient reason to invoke the First Amendment protections to shield the commission of a crime?

These are important questions of accountability, criminality, the role of the press in a free society and the police-state threats posed not by the police, but by privacy-invading activists on the web. All good reason for more debate and public consideration before Congress passes a federal media shield.

(Earlier posts on the media shield here. And MichelleMalkin.com has good coverage, including this post explaining the hacking.)

UPDATE: (1:20 p.m.) — Instapundit directs us to The Register, “Memo to US Secret Service: Net proxy may pinpoint Palin email hacker.”‘

UPDATE (4:15 p.m.) — James Taranto at the WSJ’s Best of the Web identifies the media’s double-standard:

Especially telling in this regard is the AP’s reference to the emails as “leaked.” (The Boston Globe uses the verb leak in its headline for the AP report.) Usually this term refers to a government agency or other organization’s failure to keep a secret. A leaker is someone who is authorized to possess information but not to disclose it.

These emails were not leaked, they were stolen. Here we have an actual invasion of an American citizen’s privacy, and what is the press’s attitude? If the AP is representative (and given its organizational structure, it should be), it is to regard “questions about the propriety” of the victim as more important than the invasion of privacy itself.

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