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February 18, 2005

Law & the Media 2005

On Saturday morning (February 19), the Houston Bar Association's annual Law & the Media Seminar, co-sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and The Press Club, will take place on the sixth floor of the South Texas College of Law, 1303 San Jacinto in downtown Houston.

The topic for this year's program is "Maintaining the Independence of the Media," and the featured speaker is John Seigenthaler, who founded the First Amendment Center in 1991 with the mission of creating national dialogue about First Amendment rights and values. Mr. Seigenthaler served for 43 years as an award-winning journalist for The Tennessean, Nashville's morning newspaper and was the founding editorial director of USA TODAY in 1982. During the early 1960's, Mr. Seigenthaler served in the U.S. Justice Department as administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, which led to his service as chief negotiator with the governor of Alabama during the Freedom Rides.

There will also be a couple of panel discussions, which will include local journalists and attorneys. The first panel discussion will be on "Threats to the Independence of the Media" and will include four noted local journalists, Robert Arnold of KPRC, Tim Fleck of the Houston Chronicle, UH Journalism Professor Garth Jowett, and Mimi Schwartz of Texas Monthly magazine. I will be on the second panel along with local attorney Chip Babcock, Carlos Puig of Rumbo de Houston, and Olive Talley of Dateline NBC that will be discussing "Tools for Maintaining Independence of the Media."

Come on out on Saturday morning and enjoy the lively discussion of issues affecting the media and journalism. Members of the media, communications professionals and journalism and law students attend at no charge. Attorneys pay $40 for the program, which is approved for three hours of MCLE, including one hour of ethics.

Posted by Tom at February 18, 2005 7:57 PM |


Well, as it turns out, my earlier commitment for today has melted away. I should have gotten myself down to see some of this, but just didn't manage. Ah well. I hope it went well, and that you'll post some details to your blog!

Posted by: kevin whited at February 19, 2005 10:53 AM

The seminar was fascinating and, not suprisingly, Mr. Seigenthaler was excellent. Part of his comments, and also subsequent panel discussions, involved the need for a "shield law" to protect journalists from prosecutors who would make the media into an arm of the U.S. Attorney's office. In support of his argument on the need for a shield law, Mr. Seigenthaler gave, among others, the example of the subpoena of New York Times reporter Judith Miller in connection with the investigation of the Valerie Plame matter. I support a qualified journalist's privilege and feel we need to curb this prosecutorial abuse. But I wonder why the New York Times has chosen the Valerie Plame disclosure as the island on which to die in defense of a reporter?s privilege. Isn't there a substantive difference between withholding the name of a confidential source where the name of the source is being sought in connection with wrongdoing revealed by the source, as in the case of a whistleblower, as opposed to the Plame case, where revealing the name of a CIA operative is itself the wrongdoing. Here, the media is not protecting a source who has given information in which there is a legitimate public interest, but is being concealed by the government, but rather, the media is protecting the name of a source who has outed a CIA operative. It is hard to argue that there is a legitimate public interest in the identity of a CIA undercover operative. However, there is a compelling public interest in knowing the name of a public official who would reveal such information. Indeed, is a person who reveals such information really a ?source? at all?

Posted by: Joe Larsen at February 20, 2005 4:13 PM

Your point is a good one, but my sense is that the purpose of a shield law is undermined once a determination is allowed as to whether revealing the name of the confidential source is in the public interest. Inasmuch there appears to be little question at this point that Judith Miller was manipulated by her confidential source, Mr. Siegenthaler's point that the reporter's judgment in evaluating the purpose of the confidential source may, in the end, be the best defense against the bad purpose of the confidential source.

Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at February 20, 2005 7:05 PM

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