Pressing the case

By JIM TARICANI  |  March 14, 2007

The media needs to raise its game
The recent spate of subpoenaing reporters has produced a chilling effect, however, on newsgathering efforts, in both print and broadcast.
Many television stations, since my case was decided, are forbidding their reporters from using confidential sources. Many newspapers have also stopped the use of confidential sources. This trend casts a pall over the free press. When stories don’t get reported because of a prohibition on confidential sources, the public is bound to lose.
Yet one of the biggest problems facing the outlook for a shield law is the media’s own credibility problem.
Corporate America owns the print and broadcast media. The desire for ever-increasing profit margins is forcing television news organizations to give viewers the news they “want,” according to the research done by stations, instead of the news they need.
The insatiable desire for higher ratings has diminished the quality of television news, both locally and nationally. When the death of Anna Nicole Smith got big play on the newscasts of the three major networks, it’s hard to determine if that said more about the state of television news or the people who watch it.
In newspapers, there’s an even sadder story. The corporations that own the printed press are cutting back staff, often resulting in experienced reporters leaving for other jobs or retiring, for the purpose of increasing profits.
Both broadcast and print journalists need to clean up our own act. We need to make sure our stories are fair, and in context. Until we regain our credibility with the public, our cries for a shield law will fall on deaf ears in Congress.
The Bush administration’s open disdain for the press is palpable. Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be the late Vice President Spiro Agnew’s clone when it comes to journalists. And George W. Bush’s post 9-11 battle cry — “You’re either with us or against us” — appears to apply to the reporters who cover the White House.
I doubt that federal prosecutors and judges will begin to ease up on subpoenaing reporters and sending them to prison. They know full well there will be no public outcry, no large-scale outrage when the perception is that reporters were trying to out a CIA agent, on behalf of White House insiders.
Something needs to be done, however, to rein in the federal prosecutors and judges who are trampling the concept of a free press. A limited federal shield law would be a good start.

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