President George W. Bush may have threatened to veto the Free Flow of Information Act, which was passed by the House on Tuesday, even though it can only support the very Constitutional rights he swore to protect when he assumed office.
The bill protects journalists against Federal court orders that force them to reveal the identity of their confidential sources, the Washington Post reports. By approving the bill, the House also protected the stream of leaks that has rightly brought to light injustices like prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison and poor health care for veterans at Walter Reed hospital.
These are injustices the American people have a right to know about as their tax money is directly funding it – a misallocation of funds on the part of government by many accounts, indeed.
The bill would not protect reporters’ sources in the event they have information that could prevent a terrorist attack or weaken national security, but it is unclear why the Bush administration, the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all oppose it.
The Post also reports that other factors would permit a reporter to be subpoenaed for information, including information that could “prevent imminent death or significant bodily harm” or “identify a person who has revealed trade secrets or information involving personal medical or financial records.”
Since it seems the bill would not jeopardize life or limb, then, it is outright troubling – yet hardly surprising – that these departments oppose it.
After all, the press often learns information the public should know from leaks when the government errs or wants to save face in an ugly situation. It’s no leap of the imagination, then, to associate opposition to increased transparency with secretiveness.
Of course, the fact that the Bush Administration doesn’t want the government’s faux pas and foibles published or broadcasted doesn’t necessarily mean that the Administration and departments lead by its appointee are hiding something.
Still, the fact that the government shies away from openness – by supporting laws that make it harder for oft-scandalous information to come to light – shouldn’t sit well with any freedom-loving American. After all, if you don’t know what your government is doing, it’s harder to protect against federal abuses of individual or constitutional rights.
The House should be praised for its effort to protect a private entity – the group of news gatherers known as the media – so that it can do its job.
Every time the media publicize government waste, impropriety or even rights violations, government must reform and punish renegades and power-seekers. By fostering a more efficient and fair government in this way, all Americans benefit.