Consistent with the "small-government" roots of conservatism, The Washington Times Friday endorsed the federal shield law, which would provide a qualified protection for journalists and their sources from overreaching government prosecutors.
The House approved a shield law overwhelmingly last October, but a Senate version has yet to get a floor vote, although it may soon, according to one of the backers of the bill, the Free Flow of Information Act.
The bill is opposed by the Justice Department. On Wednesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey told one of the bill's major backers at an oversight hearing that "10 angels swearing on the Bible" could not assuage his concerns about the legislation.
Those concerns are that it would "endanger national security by making it nearly impossible for us to investigate leaks of even the most sensitive national-security information,” Mukasey told Congress. He also said he thought the bill did more to protect leakers than journalists.
But in an editorial Friday, the conservative-leaning Times said, "No realist and proponent of limited government can watch the epidemic of American journalists subpoenaed, questioned, held in contempt or jailed … without wondering when the slow march of the Fourth Estate into an investigative arm of the government reaches its ugly apotheosis."
The Times said that the law "guards not 'the media' but something much more vital -- the public's right to know."