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Court Rules Journalists Must Disclose Sources, Missing the Point Of Journalism

July 20, 2013

By Maggie O’Neill

1_photo (1)Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that James Risen, a New York Times journalist who, in a book he wrote about the CIA, disclosed the agency’s efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program at the end of the Clinton administration, is legally compelled to reveal his source. Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr. stated in his opinion: “Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony.”

Although Mr. Risen is indeed the only man who has the knowledge necessary to disclose his source, he should not be legally obligated to do so. The press is, or at least ought to be, one of the most important checks on our government, and one of the most visible components of democracy. So if the government were to force Mr. Risen to compromise his integrity as a journalist, or to establish a precedent that would hinder the press’ ability to gather information, it would be an absolute affront to the First Amendment and our democratic system.

The judicial vote that essentially set the stage for such a circumstance was affirmed by a 2-1 margin. Judge Roger Gregory, the member who voted against the majority, warned that “the majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society.”

And he is absolutely right.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision will indubitably inhibit journalists’ ability to gather and report information. Potential sources will be discouraged from sharing information, including that which the American people have the right to know, for fear of indictment. Moreover, journalists will be less inclined to print information for fear of eventually being forced to reveal — and compromise — their sources, and thus their own journalistic integrity. Read the rest at Policymic.

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