Monday, July 04, 2005

A Free and Irresponsible Press, . . .

The press apologists like to argue that without being able to hide the identify of their source, people woulnd't talk to them out of fear, and that without the protection of a shield of privilege, the press wouldn't be able to be free. (Quote.) Reporters must be able to protect confidential sources that otherwise would not come forward for fear of retribution. It is this basic trust that protects the public's right to know and allows journalists to do their jobs.

Maybe so. But maybe not. I don't recall what law gave the public a right to know anything the press thinks the public should know. And what law gave the press the right to find it out and report it? They have freedom of speech, sure, but the rest of it? When was the last time you heard of a reporter officially charged with violation of a so-called basic trust? They get Pulitzers for that.

Most of the people who want to speak on condition of secrecy really, really, REALLY, want to tell a story to the press. They just don't want to get caught. They have no problem with betrayal in general; they just have a problem with their own identity being betrayed. In other words, these are weasels, who insist on rules of conduct for others but not for themselves.

I say, let's test the proposition. Let's make it illegal in a couple of states for reporters to report anything at all without having attribution available. If reporters lose jobs in those states for lack of anything to report, well, maybe they were right.

But I, for one, bet the sky won't fall in if but for a reportorial shield allowing reporters to report without being required to give up their sources. If there wasn't any news, reporters could always make stuff up. It's not as if they've haven't done it before.

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