Saturday, June 03, 2006

MSM pays the price for lack of federal shield law

Rather than expose confidential sources, five news organizations have agreed to pay $750,000 to Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist wrongly accused of espionage.

Why should the media have to pay for the government's false allegations? Because, in the absence of a federal shield law protecting journalists' sources, the news organizations were being fined $500 a day for refusing to identify the people in the government who gave them detailed background information about Lee, including financial records and the results of his polygraph tests.

Media watchers are far from happy with the settlement. The the New York Times article about the settlement contains two representative quotes:

"It's a huge disappointment, and it's certainly not an ideal resolution. But it's probably as good as we could have expected under the circumstances." -- Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

"These are very strange times in which we are living, and it does appear that sometimes decisions have to be made that would have been unthinkable five years ago. But to make a payment in settlement in this context strikes me as an admission that the media are acting in concert with the government." -- Jane E. Kirtley, a professor of media law and ethics at the University of Minnesota

Not all the media organizations involved in the case were willing to pay. CNN chose to spend $1 million to defend its reporter rather than contribute to the settlement.
"We parted ways because we had a philosophical disagreement over whether it was appropriate to pay money to Wen Ho Lee or anyone else to get out from under a subpoena," said Laurie Goldberg, a CNN spokewoman.