The Media Does Not Have Extra Rights

There were two interesting court decisions today that each can be summarized as "the press does not have rights or legal privileges beyond those granted to any ordinary citizens"

The first case is the DC Circuit's decision to allow subpoena's of reporters about their sources in the Valerie Plame affair.

Appellants counter that Justice Powell could not have meant what the United States argues, as this would have given reporters no more protection than other citizens. However, they never make it clear why they are convinced that Justice Powell must have intended to give reporters more protection than other citizens. The Constitution protects all citizens, and there is no reason to believe that Justice Powell intended to elevate the journalistic class above the rest.

Much more here at Beldar.  I can't resist one quote from him:

And on its own, the DC Circuit's lengthy decision
today is absolutely fascinating for hard-core law wonks, especially
ex-judicial clerks. Indeed, I feel the urge to write several thousand
words about it "” dry quotes from the written opinions, connected by an
over-extended football metaphor, leavened with dollops of snark.


The second case is in Maryland, where the state court determined that two Baltimore Sun reporters do not have the guaranteed right to a level of access to government officials and information beyond that given to a private decision.  As a citizen of that state, I might want to punish my elected representative at the polls if I thought they were trying to stifle criticism by managing the press poll too much; however, I agree with the court that the paper is not owed any legal redress.

I am sure we will hear cries tomorrow from editors about growing threats to the first amendment.  Don't be confused: These decisions are about press privilege, not press freedom.  Neither you nor I can ignore a federal subpoena, and neither should a reporter.

If you want to worry about the first amendment, read this:

The survey of 112,003 students finds that 36% believe newspapers should get "government approval" of stories before publishing.



  1. David Gerstman:

    Maybe that 36% is driven less by an ignorance of what constitutes a free press than disgust with what they perceive as the media's consistent misuse of their power.

  2. Doug Murray:

    That student survey is why the 1st amendment is necessary.

  3. Don Lloyd:

    ...reporters do not have the guaranteed right to a level of access to government officials and information beyond that given to a private decision. ...

    decision =>> citizen ??

    Regards, Don