Herger flubs another one

As any journalist will confirm, reporters sometimes must use confidential sources to tell important stories. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the poor conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe—all were revealed thanks to confidential sources.

There have been dozens of such stories in recent years, and more than 40 reporters have been taken to federal court, questioned about their sources and threatened with prison if they don’t cooperate. Some have gone to jail.

Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia have shield laws protecting confidential sources. They understand that sources often fear to come forward if their confidentiality can’t be protected. For reporters, as for attorneys and doctors, confidentiality is fundamental. They can’t do their jobs without it.

Congress is now close to passing the Free Flow of Information Act, historic legislation that would extend confidentiality protections to the federal level. The bill passed the House by a lopsided vote of 398-21—but without the support of our congressman, Wally Herger, who followed up his recent vote against the SCHIP bill by again marching in lockstep with President Bush, who said he would veto the shield-law bill.

Herger says he doesn’t believe there “is a need to grant journalists special privileges, or that their profession trumps their basic duty as citizens.” If they find themselves in court under pressure to reveal their sources, in other words, they should do so. The fact that the legislatures of all but one of the states, as well as more than 150 of his Republican colleagues in the House, say he’s wrong and that journalists must be able to protect their sources apparently carries no weight with him.

Fortunately, the House vote is veto-proof. Now it’s up to the Senate.