by Areo Pagitica
The House Ethics Committee has been holding hearings in Washington in an effort to find out how CBS News reporter Daniel Schorr obtained a secret copy of an Intelligence Committee report which earlier this year was published in New York's Village Voice. Schorr, meanwhile, continues to have his microphone silenced. At issue here and in other cases across the country is a reporter's right to maintain the confidentiality of sources.
The status of so-called "shield laws" has been a subject of much debate within the journalism community for a few years now. Some say such laws are necessary to insure the public's right to know. Others have said they'd be an unwelcome government regulation of the press, that we should be left alone to report the facts and take whatever risks necessary.
But within the last few weeks, there's been a new flurry of activity around this issue. Four newsmen from the Fresno Bee in California were charged with contempt for refusing to reveal their sources on a story. They went to jail Sept. 3 with an open-ended sentence.
The New Mexico Supreme Court recently ruled that state's shield law to be an unconstitutional legislative encroachment on a judicial function. An Albuquerque radio station that precipitated the ruling with an investigation into misuses of funds by a local sheriff has petitioned the court for a rehearing.
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by William Farr, a Los Angeles reporter who served 46 days in jail for refusing to reveal sources on a story; he must still serve five days and pay a $500 fine.
On the lighter side, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of St. Petersburg Times reporter Lucy Ware Morgan for refusing to reveal sources in a story about a grand jury investigation.
Shield laws are often essential tools on major stories; threats to them are in effect a threat to the more important First Amendment right to freedom of the press.
Twenty-six states and one county (in Hawaii) now have shield laws in some form but, as Fielding McGehee, editor of the Press Censorship Newsletter, put it to us: "We seem to be taking our lumps lately."
The whole issue of shield laws and confidentiality will be back in the news this week with the Dan Schorr case. Watch for it . . .
Filler: The newest-and maybe the rarest-t-shirt design in town was the brainstorm of a Detroit Free Press staffer who, with some help from the composing room, made a plate of the FP front page headlining Nixon's resignation and pressed eight shirts before an editor stopped production. They went fast in the city room but, alas, the eight may remain the only ones in existence . . . Hy Levenson, longtime owner of WCAR radio who's made more than his share of enemies in the radio biz, is about to retire . . . Detroit News readers must really take the paper seriously. One recent letter-to-the-editor writer reported that he'd counted 37 editorials criticizing Jimmy Carter and 49 praising Gerald Ford. A few days later, another letter said Bishop Emrich referred to god 42 times in a single column . . . Larry Wright, the Free Press-turned-News cartoonist, pulled a fast one in his Sept. 1 strip, which shows a woman holding a newspaper. Look close and the paper's headline says "Headliners Win!" The Headliners is a softball team of FP staffers . . . The Times they are a'changin'. Staid NY Times finally changed its format from eight to six columns for news stories to conserve newsprint. The prospect of such a move so freaked Gotham's news groupies that New York magazine early last year got a design consultant to show the world how NYT should proceed, coming up with a lot of ideas that would make even The Sun 's circus layout look like old hat. But the Times played it safe ...