Like the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, journalists at the Hartford Courant want to be equal to everyone else – only more so.
That is why they need a shield law protecting them from giving evidence at trial. Ordinary folk, the other animals in the barnyard of humanity, do not need such protections.
And why not?
Well, see now, there’s this here thing called the US Constitution. And the US Constitution provides that all the animals in the human barnyard should have an equal right to a fair trial by jury. But rights depend on obligations. There can be no right to a fair trial unless testifiers are obliged to cough up what they know on demand, which is why judges are empowered to find in contempt of court those animals in the human barnyard who have information necessary to assure fairness at court but refuse, for perverse reasons, to depart with it. Traditionally, some exceptions have been allowed: Wives and husbands, for example, cannot be compelled to testify against each other, and witness cannot be compelled to furnish testimony against themselves.
But exceptions do not invalidate rules. They prove the rule; one might almost say they improve the rule.
The right to a fair trial is seriously impacted if some animals in the human barnyard are excluded from their obligations.
No obligations, no rights. That’s the way the thing works. Excuses that have not in the past played well with judges who are sworn to uphold the law are as follows: “With all due respect to you judge, it would greatly inconvenience me to give you this information;” or “My boss won’t like me if I surrender this information judge;” or “I won’t be able to do my job – which involves the free flow of information — if I’m forced to cough up this data. See, I’m a stockbroker, and my clients will flee the premises if I disgorge private information about them… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… as Yul Brenner says in The King And I.
Or, “Sen. Chris Dodd, finding himself running for president this year, and wishing to protect himself from troublesome media criticism, has now produced a bill that would give us, the tribunes of the people, an immunity not enjoyed by other animals in the human barnyard who, like us, trade in personal information – and we love this bill, love it to death. We intend to call it in our dispatches ‘The Chris Dodd Immunity From Media Criticism Bill’ –- hereafter the CDIFMCB -- which, we hope you will agree, should fall on the other side of constitutional obligations.”
Judge: Ah, I see. You want to carve out in the law an exception for yourselves that may adversely affect someone else’s right to a fair trial, and you want to do this because…?
The CDIFMCB Conglomerate: Well, because current restrictions interfere with the flow of a free press.
Judge: But granting you such an extraordinary exception would interfere with the flow of a fair and just trial. No.
The CDIFMCB Conglomerate: But Judge…
My best guess is that there is somewhere in this wonderland of the free and the brave a judge who will just keep saying “No” to importunate pigs who want to be freer than all the other animals in the human barnyard.
No, just no.
Dodd’s is a bill that offers protection to him at the expense of everyone else. Any honest, constitutionally abiding journalist would understand this and flee these artificial and unnecessary protections the way a saint flees the devils’ pitchfork.
By the way, Dodd has gotten a very good press since he promised to provide the MediaPoliticalComplex with special protections. These are the folk who generally greet political favors with high handed abuse and moral unction.
But in Dodd’s case they have learned to swallow their indignation.