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10 Rights the First Amendment Absolutely Does Not Grant


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The Right to Confidential Sources
New York Times reporter Judith Miller testifes before the Senate Judiciary Committee on reporters' privilege legislation in Washington, 2005. © KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters/Corbis
New York Times reporter Judith Miller testifes before the Senate Judiciary Committee on reporters' privilege legislation in Washington, 2005. © KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters/Corbis

The Founding Fathers viewed a free press as one of the most effective political watchdogs. But if reporters are to do their jobs well, they need avenues for acquiring sensitive or confidential information [source: Frontline]. In some cases, this involves an inside source that "leaks" the information under the condition of anonymity. Most U.S. states have passed shield laws that protect journalists from having to reveal their sources, but the federal government offers no such protection.

Back in 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that a reporter had to testify before a grand jury if he or she witnessed a crime. In 2005, that ruling was reaffirmed when Judith Miller, a reporter for The New York Times, spent 85 days in jail after refusing to name a confidential source who had leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer — itself a federal crime [source: Van Natta]. Journalists continue to lobby for a national shield law to safeguard reporters against the very real threat of imprisonment for protecting a source.


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