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On Not Naming Names

The reporter was given a choice: Identify his confidential sources or go to jail. He chose jail

But having lived the life, I'm not willing to join the current chorus of press bashers. There's good reason why virtually every state today provides some protection for reporters, just as they and the federal judiciary accord testimonial privileges to spouses, lawyers, doctors, priests and others.

My case prompted a strengthening of the New Jersey shield law for journalists, and in 1980, the state Supreme Court held 6 to 1 that the Sixth Amendment could not override that law simply "upon a defendant's unsubstantiated assertion" that a reporter's information could help him. "To a confidential source, to all confidential sources," Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz wrote, "the promise of silence is absolute, and any breach is a total one."

I hope the day will come when Congress enacts a federal shield law for journalists and the Supreme Court, almost evenly split in 1972, revisits the issue of reporters' testimony. Until then I cast my lot with Judith Miller—who, because she was willing to go to jail for what she considered her professional obligations in the public interest, is not above the law.

 

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