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White House calls for reintroduction of shield law to protect journalists and sources

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Taking fire for overarching AP subpoena, Obama backs media protections


The Obama administration is asking for Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to reintroduce a bill that would give more protections to media organizations, reports The New York Times. Schumer’s 2009 Free Flow of Information Act would prevent the government from forcing compliance with subpoenas until a federal court determines that there’s a good reason to do so, heading off the kind of broad subpoena that the Justice Department used to monitor the personal and private phone lines of 20 AP reporters. The administration has been under fire for its handling of the AP case, with Senator Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) saying that the Obama White House has "impaired the First Amendment" during yesterday’s Congressional hearing.

The protections in Schumer's bill are already offered in many states, but not yet at the federal level. The Times points out that the shield law was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009 but got sidelined during the fallout from WikiLeaks’s release of confidential material like the Collateral Murder video and other Iraq war documents the following year.

But while the White House supports freedom for journalists, it has cracked down hard on whistleblowers, charging more people with crimes under the Espionage Act than all past presidents combined. Attorney General Holder echoed the dichotomy during his testimony yesterday, saying that "there should be a shield law with regard to the press’s ability to gather information," and that the focus ought to be on "those who break their oath and put the American people at risk."