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Editorial: Measure helps rein in government

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, U.S. Reps. John Conyers, a liberal Democrat from Michigan, and Ted Poe, a conservative Republican from Texas, have joined together to support a federal shield law.

Based on recent history, Conyers and Poe are on to something that their colleagues and the general public should support as if our way of life depends on it - because, simply put, that is the case.

Big government is running amok and it is time to rein it in. The Free Flow of Information Act is a step in that direction.

Take this well-publicized instance: The Department of Justice put confidential sources at risk by secretly obtaining the communications records of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News. Such actions have a chilling effect on communications between reporters and sources.

It gets worse. The Fox News reporter targeted by the DOJ, James Rosen, was identified as a likely criminal co-conspirator in the affidavit by an FBI agent seeking the warrant.

Rosen was not charged, but his movements and conversations - including those with his parents - were tracked.

The Associated Press, despite its almost unfailingly upbeat reports on the Obama administration, was also targeted. Two months of its phone records were secretly obtained by the DOJ.

Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed revised guidelines that have no value, as they are not binding and can be ignored. More to the point, has Holder offered any evidence that he can be trusted on any front?

The proposed Free Flow of Information Act provides federal legislative safeguards for reporters. Instead of self-imposed DOJ regulations, Conyers and Poe note, there would be statutory protection, ensuring that the federal judiciary is brought in to oversee any DOJ efforts to compel journalists to reveal confidential information. The statute would protect against mandating media disclosure unless the DOJ could prove that its interest in compelling disclosure exceeded the public interest in disseminating the information.

The legislation offers strong protections to journalists. It would provide for narrow exceptions to prevent acts of terrorism or immediate death or bodily harm. But even in those cases, obtaining information from journalists would be a means of last resort.

Poe and Conyers' bill would also require the DOJ to notify media organizations before any subpoenas are issued unless the department can prove that delay would unnecessarily threaten its investigation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the shield bill on Thursday. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is on the committee.

Flake can be contacted by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking to speak to him. If he's not available, ask to speak to his chief of staff or press secretary. Let them know you support the Free Flow of Information Act.


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