Schumer’s office tried to reassure bloggers about his September 18 shift by issuing a statement to Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos, claiming, in so many words, that the new bill was a temporary measure designed to shore up support on the Judiciary Committee and at the White House, and that he would work to broaden the final bill’s protections.
At the end of the month, the White House’s unexpected opposition to the Senate’s original bill went public in a New York Times story by Charlie Savage. The administration wanted changes to the bill that would have lessened the bills’ protection, especially in cases dealing with national security. Their demands came as a big surprise to the coalition: Obama had been a co-sponsor of a very similar bill when he was a senator, and had spoken favorably about it as a candidate.
On October 30, Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, Schumer, and the White House reached a compromise. Schumer quickly introduced another substitute bill. The guts of the proposal—its instructions to judges on how strongly they should weigh, in a variety of circumstances, the benefits to the public in quashing a journalist’s subpoena versus letting one go forward—were now slightly less favorable to reporters than the Senate’s original version. But it restored a functional perspective on who the law would cover, with new, better-defined, but hardly more restrictive, language.
Most importantly, the bill now has clear White House backing, something that should prove helpful as Schumer and Specter round up votes. A full hearing before the Judiciary Committee will likely occur on November 19, with passage by the full Senate to follow. Then comes the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate’s inevitably different versions—including, if the compromise bill’s covered-person definition stays as written today, different definitions of who, exactly, counts as a journalist. Which definition prevails remains to be seen.
“I think at the end of the day if you’re an online journalist working for a company or on your own and you on a regular basis report and distribute the news, you’ll be covered. I don’t know what the language will look like,” says Boyle, “but that’s the objective. There are modern-day pamphleteers here that you should be able to get covered.”