Editors at ASNE Conference Pushed on Federal Shield Law

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By: Joe Strupp

The American Society of Newspaper Editors went a step further than usual during its annual conference this week, giving members in Washington, D.C. for the annual event specific directions for lobbying Congress.

And a specific issue to lobby about: the Federal Shield Law.

In e-mails to members and a posting on the ASNE.org site, the editor?s group provided Web site information, background material and tips on ways to track down individual legislators to make such lobbying easier.

?Many of you will be in Washington next week for Capitol Conference ’08 — the joint meeting of ASNE, NAA and NEXPO. Those of you who make the trip may also be visiting your members of Congress. If that is the case, you are likely to be discussing the Free Flow of Information Act ? the shield law ? which is very close to passage by the Senate in the form of S 2035,? the notice stated. ?We want to arm you with all of the information needed to fully discuss or write about this legislation. This now includes two new additions to the ASNE Free Flow of Information Act page (http://www.asne.org/ffia). These documents were drafted for use by all groups supporting the shield law in response to recent public statements opposing the legislation by the Department of Justice and director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security.?

The Web site also directed members to: ?a directed, point by point response to the arguments raised in the Administration’s letters,? and ?A more general discussion of the reasons this legislation remains fundamentally necessary and poses no threat to national security or law enforcement interests? and the ASNE site.

?If you are attending Capitol Conference ’08, you are coming to Washington at an exciting and vital time,? the posting added. ?We believe that we have the votes to achieve Senate approval of S 2035. We simply need every senator who supports this legislation to speak out, sending a clear message to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that he or she demands a floor vote on S 2035.?

Ken Paulson, chairman of ASNE?s First Amendment Committee and editor of USA Today, said the notice and push for editors to pressure for a shield law comes ?at a critical time.?

?Unless newspaper editors are able to make the case for a shield law, nothing positive will happen,? Paulson said. ?It is one of the issues people need to be reminded about.?

None of the dozen or so editors who spoke with E&P during Sunday?s opening day at the conference said they planned to lobby on the issue. But most said the need to use their papers to educate readers and call for action was vital.

David Boardman, editor of The Seattle Times, said editors are not usually in the lobbying business, but agreed it is an issue so important that it deserved extra attention: ?Advocacy in support of the First Amendment is entirely acceptable.?

Gilbert Bailon, outgoing ASNE president and editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, admitted that newspaper editors are not usually ones to lobby. But he said using other tactics to put pressure on Congress over this issue was proper. ?What I am encouraging our members to do is speak about it, write about it, and editorialize in favor of the Shield Law,? he explained. ?Most of us don?t want to be lobbying Congress, although they know we are in support of such a measure.?

ASNE executive Director Scott Bosley said editors do not have to lobby directly to have a voice. ?Some can lobby and some have editorial pages that they oversee,? he said. ?We are at a critical time with this.?

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