Confidentiality and News Gathering

Confidentiality and News Gathering

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

June 30, 2005

To the Editor:

This week’s court decision allowing reporters to be held in contempt for refusing to divulge anonymous sources (editorial, June 28) underscores the need for Congress to pass a federal shield law.

Confidential sources are essential to news gathering. From the colonial-era press that protected the anonymity of critics of the British government, to the Associated Press reporter who refused to divulge to Congress the sources for his reporting on Civil War blunders, to the Wall Street Journal reporters who unveiled the scandal at Enron, our democracy has needed a free and independent press. A fully functioning press cannot exist if reporters cannot protect their confidential sources.

In a report issued by the New York City Bar Association last fall, we maintained that the arguments favoring a federal common law privilege are overwhelming. Virtually all states currently provide, as a matter of state law, legal protection for reporters to preserve the confidentiality of their sources.

Throughout our history, our government has respected reporters’ need to maintain confidences, absent extraordinary circumstances. It is essential that Congress act now to preserve this principle. The failure to do so can only damage our democracy.

President, Association of the Bar
of the City of New York

The New York Times
July 2, 2005