- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

PEELING THE SHIELD

Wait, wait. Look closer. The federal “shield” law could endanger national security, say those who fret that the “Free Flow of Information Act” on parade Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee is not the virtuous guardian of First Amendment rights and journalists everywhere. The legislation, which protects reporters who chose not to reveal confidential sources, has hidden perils, critics say. It also enjoys strong support and keen interest from Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat - and other big cheeses.

But a senior Republican aid with the Judiciary Committee somberly tells Inside the Beltway that weighing the merits of the bill is no simple matter.

“The debate on this issue comes down to a simple proposition. Federal law makes it a felony for anyone with classified information to provide it to unauthorized people - and that includes reporters. You either believe it’s a crime, or you believe the press should have an unfettered right to seek out and publish classified information. That’s the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats on this bill,” the source says.

“The federal government has a duty to protect national security and classified information. The bill could inhibit federal investigation of leaks, or cases when a reporter has information related to a terrorist plot, or an act that has already occurred. And the bill is not clear in some respects. It is intentionally not clear. That is to allow First Amendment lawyers to argue their cases in court,” the source continues.

“It puts the protection of classified information in the hands of federal judges. And they are not necessarily the most qualified to do this. That duty and responsibility should rest with the executive branch.”

Currently, 49 states offer some form of protection for journalists, but there is no definitive federal legislation to shield those who choose not to reveal their sources in court. Many news organizations, meanwhile, applaud the bipartisan bill.

Judiciary Committee members Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat; Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat; and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, are among the original co-sponsors of the bill.

HERE’S YOUR PAPERS

Seems like old times. When in doubt, FOIA them. Or sue. Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and former Clinton administration gadfly, is still in attack mode. Mr. Klayman plans to personally serve “fraudulently elected” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a class action complaint. Himself. Like, “Here you go, sir.”

Well, sure. OK.

“It’s filed on behalf of imprisoned student protester Akbar Mohammadi and all oppressed, tortured and murdered Iranians seeking freedom, by Nasrin Mohammadi, the sister of Akbar,” Mr. Klayman tells Beltway.

Mr. Klayman plans to make his move when the Iranian president visits the United Nations on Sept. 23.

“Thus far, the Obama administration has not even paid lip service to the freedom movement in Iran, but instead seeks to negotiate with these terrorist despots. The quickest way to bring freedom to Iran, remove the nuclear threat, and bring greater stability and security to the Middle East and the world is to bring these Islamic fascists to justice and remove them from power,” Mr. Klayman says.

THE GRAYING LADY

It’s official. The New York Times selectively ignores its foes much of the time. Asked by a reader how the Times would cover a Rush Limbaugh-lobbed attack on columnist Maureen Dowd, Craig R. Whitney - “assistant managing editor overseeing journalistic standards” - answered this way:

“The Times is attacked pretty much every day by commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, who even declared war against us. That’s not news, so we don’t ‘cover’ it, but when they point out errors we have actually made, or other lapses, we correct them just as we do when others call them to our attention.”

Mr. Whitney later added, “If we live up to our vows of political celibacy in the news columns, you shouldn’t be able to say a news article in The Times has a liberal bent - or a conservative one.”

FOX WORTHY

Inquiring minds have asked Beltway whether war has broken out between Fox News and the White House. Well, maybe - though both sides have more pressing things to worry about.

For those of you keeping track: President Obama will not appear on Fox News this Sunday when he makes the rounds of five other political talk shows. Since he was elected, in fact, Mr. Obama has not made an appearance on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”

The president did show up on the set when he was campaigning in early 2008. That only happened after Mr. Wallace conducted a 772-day “Obama Watch,” publicly tracking the number of days that elapsed since he extended an invitation to the president-to-be during a 2006 Gridiron Dinner.

POLL DU JOUR

• 15 percent of American voters rate the phrase “politically liberal” as positive; 41 percent give it a negative review.

• 32 percent rate the phrase “politically conservative” as positive; 29 percent call it negative.

• 35 percent rate the phrase “politically moderate” as positive; 12 percent give it a negative review.

• 41 percent rate the phrase “like Ronald Reagan” as positive; 25 percent give it a negative.

Source: A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Sept. 8-9.

Leaks, squeaks, press releases to jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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