Cornyn: Schumer's Shield Law 'Inconsistent with Notion of Free Press'

Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 02:09 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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Sen. John Cornyn of Texas ripped a media shield law proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, calling it "totally inconsistent with the notion of a free press and the First Amendment," and warning the legislation would let the government decide which media outlets are legitimate and which are not.

"They want to pick and choose which journalists are covered," Republican Cornyn, the Senate minority Whip, told Breitbart. "In other words, if you’re a blogger they might not cover you, but if you work for the New York Times they might. Given the changes in the way we get information and the way we consume news, that really smacks to me in essence of government licensing who’s an official 'journalist' for the purposes of a shield law and who's not. If there is one thing I can glean from the First Amendment, it is that government should not be in the business of licensing the news media."

The Free Flow of Information Act, sponsored by Democrat Schumer, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. Schumer said he has the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill on the floor. Cornyn said Schumer is "bluffing," according to Politico, and that if he had the votes, the bill already would have been passed.

The proposed law would provide legal protection to reporters and their sources from the federal government in federal courts. Commonly known as a "reporter's privilege," it would protect a "covered journalist" from being compelled to reveal confidential information, including the identity of a source, by being subpoenaed and other legal tactics. Journalists currently have this protection in 49 states and the District of Columbia but there is no protection at the federal level.

Last year it was revealed that the government secretly tapped Associated Press phone lines and the Department of Justice did the same thing to Fox News reporter James Rosen during the course of a leak investigation. The FBI, in an affidavit seeking a search warrant for Rosen’s personal emails, referred to the journalist as a "likely criminal co-conspirator."

Cornyn's biggest issue with Schumer's proposal is that it would exempt journalists from being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury if they witness a crime.

"This idea of saying you could have information about a crime and you are immunized of having to partake in a basic act of American citizenship strikes me as pretty odd to say the least," Cornyn said. Cornyn also said he thinks Democrats are threatened by free speech that comes from conservatives.

"Talk radio, I think, the left feels as a threat," he said. "Now, you know, you start to put the dots together and the FCC’s recent discussion about placing monitors in newsrooms, you begin to see that this administration wants to control the information that people get and particularly any information that might be critical of them – which is... the function of a free press: to give people unbiased and factual information they can use to make their own decisions, not to collaborate with government in squashing speech that people find unfavorable."

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