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Who does a shield law protect?

September 16, 2007

Re "Sources of controversy," editorial, Sept. 11

Physician Steven Hatfill sued the federal government for the "intentional and willful" leaking of his name in connection with its investigation into the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people.

He also sued the New York Times for libel, but he was unable to make his case because he could not show that the paper "knowingly published falsehoods."

This surely raises the question: How can this privilege serve the cause of justice if the basic evidence concerning confidential informants is withheld?

Why should news services be protected by a journalist shield law? The free exchange of news, information and ideas is not threatened by the availability of sources. That concept, part of a free society, will survive through healthy competition if the shield law is kicked out and discarded, as it should be.

John Clark

Hollywood

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Your desire to save journalists the time and expense of cooperating in lawsuits is understandable, if not particularly noble. Unfortunately, smears happen, and people like Hatfill suffer real injuries as a result. Depriving courts of evidence in such cases would not make the injuries go away; it would only leave the victims uncompensated. In the name of free speech, the Steven Hatfills of the world would bear the enormous cost your Wild West model of public discourse imposes randomly on the innocent, but none of that cost would ever touch the media.

Congress, in the Privacy Act, had the better idea that people injured by government leaks should be able to demand justice from the government.

Under the law, reporters do not have to pay for the damage they help to cause; all they have to do is give evidence when they have it. If reporters are not even willing to shoulder the same burden of truth-telling in court that every other citizen shoulders, how dare you ask much greater sacrifices from people like Hatfill?

Mark Grannis

Washington

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