Presidential candidates support shield law

The race for the presidency has provided journalists rich story lines. The result could offer another benefit: White House backing for a bill that would make it easier for reporters to protect the identity of sources.

As of this week, all three candidates are on record supporting the Free Flow of Information Act, which prohibits a court from compelling a reporter to testify or produce a document related to protected information in most cases.

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Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainKelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities Sinema, Manchin curb Biden's agenda MORE (R-Ariz.), whose improbable rise from the political dead has stimulated thousands of stories, announced Monday at The Associated Press Annual Meeting in Washington that he supports the media shield law, despite some reservations.  

“I’m willing to invest in the press a very solemn trust that in the use of confidential sources, you will not do more harm than good, whether it comes to the security of the nation or the reputation of good people,” McCain said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic rivals, whose tight race has extended the campaign story line weeks beyond normal and portends what could be the first interesting political convention in decades, announced their support more quietly on Monday.

Both Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBarack Obama wishes a happy 58th birthday to 'best friend' Michelle Voting rights is a constitutional right: Failure is not an option Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary MORE (D-Ill.) signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, S. 2035, joining 10 other senators.

The measure does not provide reporters absolute protection. A journalist could still be called to court if a judge decides that by a “preponderance of the evidence” non-disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

But a prosecutor would have to demonstrate that all reasonable alternative sources have been exhausted and that the information being sought is essential to the case in question before a reporter would be directed to identify a source.

The House passed the legislation last October by a 398-21 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also approved the bill. But the administration and the Justice Department oppose the measure.

While the bill is not as complete as some had hoped, journalism advocates said they were encouraged by the support given the measure by the presidential candidates.

“It is an incredibly good sign that the bill has a chance to pass the Senate. It is terrific news for shield advocates,” said Clint Brewer, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“This is a law whose time has come.”