- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rep. Mike Pence is satisfied that his proposed federal shield law for journalists has made timely, productive progress through Congress in what he deemed “a historic opportunity to repair a hole in the fabric of the First Amendment.”

But the Indiana Republican, appearing yesterday at the Heritage Foundation, refused to comment on the case of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose identity was revealed to three reporters by a White House source two years ago.

“It’s such a white-hot topic. I don’t know all the facts and have steadfastly avoided commenting on it,” said Mr. Pence, who introduced the bipartisan Free Flow of Information Act with fellow Indiana Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar in February. The legislation aims to protect reporters who refuse to divulge confidential sources from prosecution.

Possible indictments in the Plame case are due this week.

The Bush administration has dismissed the legislation. In July, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey called it “bad public policy” in the age of terrorism, warning that such protection could be put to unsavory use by “criminal or terrorist organizations which have media operations.”

Mr. Pence has since offered a tweaked version of the act that protects journalists provided that national security is not compromised. He is confident that the House Judiciary Committee will address the legislation before Thanksgiving.

There has been some drama behind the scenes. Mr. Pence said grateful reporters have cautiously approached him, “looked to left, looked to the right and then said ‘thanks.’”

He also shared the contents of a “cherished” letter he received from New York Times reporter Judith Miller while she served 85 days in jail for not revealing her source in the Plame case.

It was a Times editorial that served as a catalyst for Mr. Pence’s legislation. Last fall, he became incensed when an editorial advised Americans not to “hold their breath,” waiting for a Republican Congress to consider a federal shield law.

He also resented remarks by an unnamed but “fairly sensible liberal” cable news anchor who suggested that syndicated columnist Robert Novak — who initially revealed Mrs. Plame’s identity in 2003 — should be jailed for failing to reveal his source.

Although 31 states and the District offer some degree of legal protection for reporters who cite anonymous sources, Mr. Pence is convinced that a federal law is vital for the nation’s well-being.

“As a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press,” he said.

“Our legislation is not just about protecting reporters. It’s about protecting the public’s right to know,” Mr. Pence said. “This responds to a rising tide of federal prosecutions and the threat of real jail time to coerce American journalists to reveal confidential sources.”

He added, “It has all had a chilling effect on the willingness of these sources … to step forward and tell the truth.”

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