Terrorism and the shield law

Combined by the Justice Dept.

Why does a proposed federal shield law that would protect reporters from giving up their sources hate America? Because it would protect the terrorists, that’s why. That’s the interpretation, at least, of Rachel Brand, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy.

The proposed bill, the Free Flow of Information Act, would protect anyone involved in “gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” Now, the proposed law, I’m willing to admit, might currently be a little vague—probably to avoid the specter of the government deciding who is, or isn’t a journalist—in who is protected, but Brand’s stance is a classic example of Bush administration fear-mongering. In her testimony before a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Brand argued that the national security risk of passing the shield law is too great, and that the law might even protect “a terrorist operative who videotaped a message from a terrorist leader threatening attacks on Americans.”

That a judge wouldn’t see the difference between a terrorist sympathizer and a reporter on the job is an insult, but considering the source, is hardly surprising.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.