Good luck making sense of John Sununu’s column in today’s Boston Globe about efforts to enact a federal shield law, which would allow journalists greater leeway in protecting their sources.
First he asserts that “our Constitution’s First Amendment already offers the press unequivocal protection,” seeming to position himself as an absolutist on the matter. He does not mention what he plans to do about Branzburg v. Hayes, the 1972 Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment does not, in fact, include a shield privilege.
Ah, but no so fast. Farther down, Sununu pulls a switcheroo and argues that a shield law might encourage irresponsible journalism:
By protecting and encouraging the use of anonymous sources, the law may encourage a cavalier approach to checking multiple sources or leaking sensitive information. It could also provide unwarranted protection to government or private-sector workers using anonymous leaks to undermine their supervisors.
So which is it? We don’t need a shield law because the First Amendment already allows journalists to protect their sources? Or we don’t need a shield law because journalists shouldn’t be allowed to protect their sources?
It’s pretty hard to agree or disagree with a columnist when you can’t figure out what he’s trying to say — or, as I suspect is the case here, when he has no idea what he’s writing about. Just a mess.