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NY Times Editorial: Next Move on Press Freedom

Reporter James Risen

By The New York Times
Editorial Board

Last July, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. spoke eloquently of “the importance of the constitutionally protected news gathering process,” the essential role of a free press when it comes to “government accountability and an open society,” and the need to better protect journalists from federal leak investigations.

At the time, he described policy revisions that supposedly would achieve those goals, including enhanced oversight by senior Justice Department officials and a new presumption that news organizations would be notified when the government sought their records from phone companies, Internet providers and other third parties.

Now, six months later, Mr. Holder says those policies are being followed, but he has yet to actually issue the new guidelines. And, most immediately, he has yet to call off the misguided quest by prosecutors to compel James Risen, a reporter for The Times, who wrote a 2006 book about the Central Intelligence Agency, to reveal a confidential source. Barely a week after Mr. Holder delivered his report to the White House, the Justice Department issued a statement declaring agreement with a chilling 2-to-1 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Virginia, denying the existence of any reporters’ privilege, grounded in the First Amendment, to protect confidential sources in criminal cases.

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