Freedom of the press – The First Amendment.

Not the first and foremost but the fact that it is the first says something.

I watched a debate tonight on Channel 12 which had as its subject matter “whether a reporter’s right to secrecy as to his sources should be protected.” It was very interesting.

This question was precipitated by the conflict about a reporter’s right to protect a source of information that the attorney general wanted for the prosecution of a possible crime. The reporter refused on the basis of his constitutional right as provided by the first amendment. A federal district court fined the reporter and told him he must reveal his source. He refused and is now facing a prison term for contempt of court.

What do you say?

You can argue that if he reveals his source he will be breaking his word of confidence to his sources. That this would severely limit his access to information in the future to any other sources. They would freeze up and the public would never know the truth.

On the other hand you can argue that our nation is governed by the law and the law is interpreted by the courts. They are the final authority. If you have gone the full route of the courts and they have ruled against you, you must obey and cough up the information.

I am reminded of a personal experience. I had a law partner who was very active politically. Among other activities he was local campaign manager for George Wallace, the national presidential candidate of the White Citizen’s Council . . . an organization made up of former Ku Klux Klan members who were pro-white and anti-Negro. As a matter of fact they were against all minorities and made no secret of their prejudices.

I remember an incident where the Supreme Court made a ruling that came down hard on these fascists. My partner was enraged. His first comment was, “That’s ridiculous. We just won’t allow this to happen. We will do exactly what we want to do.’

My reply to Alvin was, “You must follow the law. The Supreme Court has ruled and they have the final word.” His reply was simply “Hogwash.”

Alvin was wrong. If you do not support the ruling of the court then you are wrong. No matter how strong our beliefs are and how unjust we may feel that a court ruling is, you still must follow the law. Without the law you would have anarchy.

So whether we like it or not “Mr. Reporter, if you have exhausted your appeals and the law is against you, give it up.”


Carl Waldman
Waldman Smallwood Law Firm P.C.

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