Sunday, May 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Journalists need shield law for sources

President Barack Obama came to office promising openness and instead mounted an unprecedented campaign against anonymous leakers and the journalists who rely on those sources. A shield bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate has its flaws, but it may be better than no federal protection. The challenge will be for senators to refine the legislation when they return from their August recess.

Congressional action wouldn't be needed if all federal courts recognized a reporter's privilege under the First Amendment. Giving journalists legal protection from compelled government disclosure is essential for the free flow of information. But the federal courts have failed to establish this right for professional news gathering. A federal appeals court last month rejected efforts to shield New York Times reporter James Risen from being forced to testify on the source for his book that reported on efforts to damage Iran's nuclear program.

That leaves it to Congress to follow the lead of 40 states, including Florida, that have statutes providing at least some protection for reporters facing subpoenas. Bipartisan anger over high-profile snooping by the administration is fueling a call for federal protections. The Justice Department secretly seized the phone records of 20 Associated Press phones in an attempt to find the source who leaked information regarding a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. AP wasn't notified for a year. The Justice Department also secretly seized the phone and email records of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter, in an investigation of a State Department leak of information about North Korea.

Outrage about these investigations prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to tighten internal rules for when the Justice Department may go after reporters' information. Now President Obama and Holder are calling for Congress to pass a journalist shield law.

The Senate bill gives journalists protection from having to respond to a federal subpoena except when all other reasonable ways of obtaining the information have been exhausted. In general, the law would give journalists the right to notice and the opportunity to be heard before their testimony is compelled and before their communication records are seized. But there are broad exceptions for national security that could erode those protections.

Another legislative challenge is defining who is a journalist entitled to the shield in this age of digital media when anyone with a website and a sponsor can claim the mantle. An initial effort at crafting a definition already has raised concerns. When the Senate Judiciary Committee debates the issue this fall, senators will have to revisit the difficulty of covering legitimate journalists without including too many who have other agendas.

To hold the government accountable, the public needs information that reporters can often obtain only from confidential sources, particularly when dealing with federal government officials and national security. Whether the story is on the administration's drone strike policy or what is happening to the prisoners at Guantanamo, reporters should not have to risk going to jail to get the truth, inform the public and protect their sources. A federal shield law would be no substitute for First Amendment rights, but it would be legislative recognition of those protections and this nation's commitment to them.

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Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18