Coming out in favor of reporter shield laws is about as controversial as reaffirming a “pro apple pie” stance. Saying news organizations deserve the right to protect sources isn’t risky at all.
That’s the way it should be. News reporters should be allowed to shield whistleblowers and courageous sources willing to put it all on the line to make the public aware of wrongdoing. Without shield laws, Enron might still be in business (probably not) and Nixon might be on Mount Rushmore (again, probably not).
Right now, in a courtroom in Centennial a judge and reporter are going over those very shield laws all over again.
Holmes judge Carlos Samour and Fox News reporter Jana Winter might be drawing their lines in the sand. Samour might ask Winter to reveal the source who told her what was allegedly in the notebook James Holmes sent to his psychiatrist. Winters might tell Samour to fly a kite. And she might go to jail because of it.
To be clear, I stand with Winters on her right to withhold the name of her “law enforcement” source. I don’t know the methods she used to dig out that source — and after having a front row seat to the national media circus called CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — I’m not sure I want to know anyway. Her story that Holmes may have included disturbing images in his notebook in no way has tainted any jury, anywhere, any time. There’s very little doubt Holmes murdered 12 people and injured dozens more, the only question is what kind of mental state he was in before that time. Reporting that Holmes mailed a school notebook doesn’t change the case one iota.
But this is an important routine to revisit every now and again. Reporters need reminders that “anonymous sources” don’t apply to merely gossip. There are real consequences to keeping quiet about who said what, when and where. If a source is facing jail time — or worse — for opening their mouth, reporters must be willing to face the same and respect their bravery. That kind of source is worth protecting because it underscores a very important tenet of our democracy:
The public has a right to know.