Earlier this month, BRAD BLOG's D.C. Correspondent, Margie Burns, sat in on Senate Judiciary Committee hearings concerning a federal "reporter's shield law," ostensibly meant as a way to offer protection for the sources of journalists, while defining exceptions for national security issues. As the bill was voted out of committee she posed some interesting concerns here about it.
Yesterday, Burns wrote at her own site, the House passed their own version of the GOP-introduced, MSM-supported law, but she notes there's a small --- yet very important --- difference in the House bill's definition of "covered person"...
"(2) COVERED PERSON- The term 'covered person' means a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person."
The Senate version reads,
"(2) COVERED PERSON- The term 'covered person' means a person who is engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such person."
Well, that's an important difference, indeed. One that could substantially effect bloggers, such as ourselves, and certainly those on blogs both smaller and larger (e.g., even the huge Huffington Post, where bloggers are not paid). Under the law, if the compromise version of both houses is passed using the House definition, it could potentially mean that we would not be "covered person" and thus not protected from being required by law to disclose our sources.
Such a statue could be a devastating blow to the ability of folks like us, not on a regular salaried contract with a major metropolitan newspapers or broadcast network, to guarantee privacy to our sources. Many of the stories that The BRAD BLOG has broken and reported over the years simply could not have existed without such promises to insider and whistleblower sources.
Burns goes on to bullet-point a list of those she feels would and wouldn't be covered by the definition of "covered person" in the House version of the bill, including most bloggers as she sees it.
"In other words," she charges, "a 'covered person' is basically anyone Bob Novak could tolerate, and not covered is everyone who might hypothetically or even accidentally be perceived as a threat to the Novaks of this world. What could be sweeter? --- for Robert Novak."
UPDATE: Nate Anderson at ars technica offers additional thoughts.