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Journalists call for U.S. law to protect confidentiality of sources

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Judith Miller, the reporter for The New York Times who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to identify a confidential source, warned that unless the U.S. Congress passed a law to protect reporters and their sources, the Alexandria detention facility, where she was jailed, "may have to open an entire new wing to house reporters."

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which was considering a proposed shield law Wednesday, Miller said more than two dozen reporters have been subpoenaed in the past two years over their confidential sources and have faced the possibility of going to jail.

While she has put herself in the center of the debate over the bill having spent the summer in jail for initially refusing to testify in the CIA leak case her actions, including her decision to testify, appear to have muddled the issue.

"I'm very concerned that it's warped the larger issue," Anne Gordon, managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, said in an interview before she testified in support of a shield law.

"People haven't heard all the fine points of Judith Miller's case," Gordon said. "They've only heard that she's testified. And that's difficult in terms of helping people understand what a shield law does and what it doesn't do."

Similarly, David Westin, the president of ABC News, said after testifying for the law: "The issues of a national shield law are much broader and frankly longer than just the Judith Miller case. It would be a mistake to put it all through that single prism."

Introduced this year by Senator Richard Lugar and Representative Mike Pence, both Republicans from Indiana, the bill has just 11 sponsors in the Senate and 63 in the House of Representatives. Neither the House nor the Senate is expected to take it up this year. The bill is strongly opposed by the U.S. Justice Department, which sent a representative to the hearing Wednesday to register the department's many objections.

At the hearing, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican from Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, acknowledged his confusion over Miller's case even as he expressed support for the law.

"Here you have a reporter in jail for 85 days, and millions of Americans wonder why," Specter said. "I am one of those," he said, adding that he had visited Miller in the Alexandria detention center in Virginia. "I asked her and she couldn't tell me why she was in jail," he said.

Specter also questioned Miller's character, saying he was paraphrasing less diplomatic words that had been written about Miller in calling her "a strong-willed person" who operates out of the control of editors and who is often "the bull in the china closet."

To what extent, he asked, is such behavior necessary to do her job?

Miller said investigative reporters "are required to be a little pushier than some sources or editors would like," adding, "I've always been pushy.

"Without these qualities, I don't think you can be an effective reporter," she added, "but it creates some tensions with editors, yes."

Specter asked Gordon of The Inquirer how editors dealt with such reporters.

"Well-behaved women don't change the world, so that's something to consider," Gordon said.

Among the opponents of the legislation was Chuck Rosenberg, a U.S. district attorney in Texas, who said he was not familiar with Miller's case, but opposed the legislation because it could interfere with the government's ability to "enforce the law, fight terrorism and protect the national security."

In addition, opponents said, the definition of who would be covered was too broad, ranging from bloggers to criminals who pretend to be reporters.

Rosenberg also said there was no need for a law because the Justice Department had issued subpoenas for reporters only 12 times in the past 14 years, a number lower than that provided by Miller and Specter's staff. Specter said he would try to resolve the discrepancy.

Miller's first-person account of her grand jury testimony, published Sunday in The New York Times, raised additional questions about her conversations with I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Miller suggested that she had received a security clearance from the Pentagon to allow her to see classified information as part of her assignment with a military unit that was hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq.

(C) 2005 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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