Kane Grand Jury: Scale Back Reporters’ Shield Law Because Our Job Was Hard

Sorry, but no. You don't get to trash the First Amendment just because it makes your job hard.

A new grand jury report is calling for weakening the Pennsylvania “Shield Law” that protects journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential sources. Why, you wonder? Surely there must be a good reason for undermining the freedom of the press, right?


The report was provided to the news media by a special prosecutor investigating allegations that Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaked material from a different grand jury to the Philadelphia Daily News. Earlier this month, the special prosecutor subpoenaed two journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer to try to uncover their sources for a report that a grand jury had recommended charges against Kane. The Inky fought back by invoking Pennsylvania’s awesome Shield Law, one of the strongest in our country.

And now the grand jury wants to blow a hole through that law, by adding a “criminal-fraud” exception for grand jury proceedings. Translation: If someone allegedly violates grand-jury secrecy rules while providing information a reporter, that reporter could be compelled to reveal their source.

This type of scenario is exactly what the Shield Law was created to protect. If the grand jury gets its way, potential sources may never come forward because they are worried about being exposed. That’s bad for journalists and bad for democracy.

The crazy-making thing is, the grand jury says “the source of the … ‘leak'” was found thanks to “the truthful testimony of many law enforcement officials.” In other words, without the press. But that apparently wasn’t easy enough. The grand jury wrote (emphasis mine):

“We were unable to have members of the media identify the person or persons who we believe broke the law in delivering the information and/or documentation to the press that was subject to grand jury secrecy. Our deliberations would have been more complete from such questioning, and would have significantly reduced the time and effort expended to complete our investigation.”

To summarize: The grand jury is recommending a change in Pennsylvania’s Shield Law that would undermine the press all because … it would have saved time? It’s like they’re not even trying.

Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, also says the proposal may violate the First Amendment.

“There’s no bright line, but there is case law that talks about the fact that journalists and the press should not be used as an investigative tool,” she says. “If they want to stop leaks, stop them on their own turf.”

We reached out to the governor’s office and leaders in the General Assembly to see if there’s an appetite for the grand jury’s proposal.

Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, said, “The Shield Law strikes a balance for public interest and there would have to be a very compelling reason to weaken the law. I am not sure we are there right now.”

That’s pretty good.

Jeffrey Sheridan, a spokesman for Gov. Wolf, said, “Governor Wolf believes that we should protect the freedom of the press,” but did not provide specifics.

That’s not good enough.

Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, said, “We have not taken a position on this at this time.”

That’s not good at all.

Pennsylvania isn’t always known for being top-notch. But our Shield Law is. Let’s keep it that way, please.

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