This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 30, 2008 - U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Kit Bond has long opposed the shield bill on national security grounds, arguing that it would protect reporters who disclose classified information. In 2007 he put it this way: "Congress should be acting to make it easier to catch those who knowingly leak classified information, not make it more difficult."
In the last several days, the shield bill has become entangled in partisan procedural maneuvers in the Senate where Republicans have complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won't let them propose amendments on an unrelated energy bill. Even Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sponsor of the shield bill, said at one point he might not push to pass the bill because he is mad at Reid.
Human Events, the conservative publication, reported that Bond made a strong plea in a meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday to oppose the shield bill. He linked the bill to the energy bill: “Today’s vote sent a message to the Democratic leadership that our top priority is bringing real gas price relief to American families.” Bond did not respond immediately to calls from the Beacon.
The vote to cut off debate was 51 in favor and 43 opposed, short of the 60 yes votes needed. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., voted for the bill. Both Obama and Sen. John McCain have said they support the shield bill, but neither was present on Wednesday. President George W. Bush has threatened a veto on national security grounds.
Some supporters of the shield measure said it may have been a good thing that the bill didn't pass because recent amendments have watered it down. The American Civil Liberties Union said the delay until at least fall was good news because of "the administration's relentless effort to gut significant protections in what will be the first federal shield law."
Some bloggers are concerned that the Senate version of the bill may not protect them. A Specter amendment has narrowed who is covered. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., explained in a statement that, "Someone who blogs occasionally is not going to get the protection here. Of course, someone on a blog who is a regular journalist but happens to use the blog as a medium will be protected. And that is how it ought to be. "
Some conservative Republicans also expressed concern about the bill containing a definition of a journalist. "Congress would be deciding who is a legitimate journalist and who is not, and I, for one, am not comfortable with the federal government licensing journalists," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. A minority of journalists have expressed similar worries, although the great majority of media and press associations favor the bill.
Meanwhile Judith Miller weighed in in support. Her 85 days in prison, protecting I. Lewis Libby's identity, provided some impetus for the bill. But critics also find fodder in the Miller-Libby episode, noting that Libby could not have been convicted without information from reporters. Critics also note that Miller had allowed herself to be used by her confidential sources to spread false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.