Sunday, October 30, 2005

Woodward: Secrecy greater threat than terrorism

Bob Woodward told a Yale Law School class reporters need to keep digging to "get to the bottom of things," the New Haven Register reports. Otherwise, "We're on the path of a secret government." Government secrecy, Woodward said, is a bigger threat to America than terrorism or economic collapse.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bill to shield reporters filed in Mass.

Massachusetts Senate President Robert Travaglini today filed a bill that would shield reporters from revealing their sources. The bill would prevent state courts and government entities from compelling a reporter to disclose the source of any news or information. It would also prohibit the required disclosure of a reporter's notes, outtakes, photographs, film, recordings and other data.

Note: I served on a committee of news professionals that drafted this bill and chaired the subcommittee that developed the committee's initial draft.

The bill is broad in its definition of who it covers, in order to include bloggers and freelance reporters. It defines coverage to include any person who "engages in the gathering of news or information" and "has the intent, at the beginning of the process of gathering news or information, to disseminate the news or information to the public."

I do not yet have the official bill number or text, but I have the text of the bill we drafted, which is the same as that filed today. If you would like a copy in Word format, send me a note at

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Miller testifies on shield law

New York Times reporter Judith Miller appeared today before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify on a proposed federal shield law. "Even flawed reporters should not be jailed for protecting even flawed sources," she testified, according to CNN. Meanwhile, CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield cites a long-ago Supreme Court justice in commenting on the Miller case, "The more you explain it, the less I understand it."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Miller to testify in Senate tomorrow

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on reporters' privilege legislation. Among those scheduled to testify are New York Times reporter Judith Miller, ABC News President David Westin and Philadelphia Inquirer Managing Editor Anne Gordon.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A blog for Sunshine Week

I attended a conference this weekend where I heard Debra Gersh Hernandez, national coordinator of Sunshine Week, talk about plans for Sunshine Week 2006. Like the first event this year, the week will be devoted to raising public understanding of the importance of open government.

In the course of her talk, Hernandez announced that she has launched a Sunshine Week blog. It will provide news and commentary about open government and freedom of information issues, with particular focus on planning for the March 12-18, 2006, event.

I previously wrote about the Sunshine Week Web site here and provided a round-up of Massachusetts papers' participation in this year's Sunshine Week here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Delaware Supreme Court protects anonymous blog postings

The Delaware Supreme Court yesterday handed down an important ruling that protects anonymous bloggers from attempts to unnmask them through libel lawsuits. This is the first ruling by a state supreme court on this matter. The court said that, if an elected official claims he has been defamed by an anonymous posting on a blog, he cannot use a lawsuit to unmask the writer unless he has substantial evidence to support his claim.

Read more:

Monday, October 03, 2005

Supreme Court Turns Down Boston Globe Appeal

The Supreme Court turned down an appeal today from The Boston Globe and a former reporter in a $2 million defamation judgment stemming from the paper's refusal to reveal a confidential source, AP reports. Justices had been told that the case was important for protecting news sources, a subject of special interest with the summer jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller in a CIA leak case and court fights over civil contempt findings against other journalists.

The Globe had been sued by a doctor who argued news articles wrongly blamed her for the death of a patient. The patient, Betsy Lehman, was the newspaper's health columnist, who died in 1994 from an overdose of experimental cancer drugs.

The newspaper, relying on confidential sources, reported in 1995 that Dr. Lois Ayash was the leader of a team of doctors caring for Lehman at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and that she countersigned a medical order that resulted in Lehman's death.

The Globe later published a correction saying Ayash had not countersigned the order, while standing by the claim that she was the head of the treatment team.

I wrote previously about this case here.

In Miller case, history repeats itself

Writing in today's Washington Post, media lawyer Nathan Siegel says that the Judith Miller scenario has repeated itself in almost every generation since the beginning of modern American journalism, but each time with new protections for the subsequent generation of journalists. He writes:
"This pattern is not mere coincidence. Rather, I think, it reflects a fundamental conflict between the judiciary and the press that tends to recur whenever a new generation of judges and prosecutors uninfluenced by the memory and lessons of prior conflicts emerges. This time either Congress or the Supreme Court should take the lessons of history to heart and put this recurring controversy to rest."