Book Summary: Chapter 8

As noted in chapter 7’s summary, chapter 8 is fairly similar. Chapter 8 focuses on the laws affecting journalists’ attempts to access information. Chapter 9 analyzes the law that addresses whether journalists can be compelled to share information in their possession.

Talking about the widely known subject of “reporters privilege” can’t come with ease, especially when writing for a journalism class.

“It has long been accepted that certain communication between individuals is privileged. This includes when a client speaks to a lawyer and a patient to a doctor. Information is shared in confidence. The law recognizes the unfairness of forcing the lawyer or doctor to reveal information obtained in those conversations. Many journalists and their advocates claim a similar kind of privilege should exist when journalists obtain information from sources, particularly sources that provide information only on the condition of confidentiality. Some argue that the First Amendment freedom of the press clause should be read to grant this privilege. Otherwise, they say, the free flow of information is blocked. To impede the press, the argument continues, violates the First Amendment.” – Chapter Overview

Speaking in confidence is probably one of the greatest comfort feelings we can have as human beings. Sometimes, we share information that was meant to be kept secret but certain people cannot keep things to themselves. Having someone that can keep certain topics in confidence keeps the world going round. This is especially respected in the journalism field. If you cannot be an unidentified source, sometimes the story may never get out there. Your story could help a journalist find another source that could help serve justice or get things set right in other ways.

Data gathered from courts as well as recent high-profile cases, including the year-long prosecution and public pursuit of New York Times reporter James Risen, suggest the thin and sometimes tenuous protections of reporter’s privilege. The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision (in one Risen suit) that there is no First Amendment or common law privilege for journalists forces greater reliance on state shield laws. Shield law rulings are extremely fact-specific, and recent studies indicate that state court contempt citations against reporters are increasing with some news-gatherers spending lengthy stretches in jail. Statements from government agencies, including the Department of Justice, that they issue subpoenas to journalists only as a last resort sometimes ring hollow.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Next up is the supreme court and their opinions about journalists talking the grand jury’s. The Supreme Court was very clear that no reporter’s privilege exists in grand jury situations. When reporters refuse to comply with a grand jury subpoena, they may be charged with criminal contempt of court and sentenced to jail. This is what happened to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in 2005. She followed in the footsteps of many reporters who chose principle over prison.

Does it seem like common sense to not talk to a grand jury during a trial? This might be self deception on your behalf because now, in 2017, this is “old news”. Until that ruling, there may have been abuse of interviews for years upon years. Who knows how many mistrials could have come up because of this!


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