There is a proposed federal shield law winding its way through congress right now. Unfortunately the debate is being framed in terms of whether a reporter should be able to protect sources that leak information about issues involved in intelligence gathering and other clandestine operations. While that is an important debate there is another more mundane side of this of this that is getting lost, privacy.
While the legislation is still in flux, if passed in it current form, it would protect reporters from subpoena not only in cases of intelligence gathering, but also in cases of the release of privacy related information. In other words, if someone in the IRS gave your entire tax return to a reporter, the federal government could not subpoena the reporter to find out who gave him your return. If you where the subject of a federal investigation, and false information about you was leaked to the media to make you look guilty, the same rules would apply.
You think that last example is far-fetched? That is exactly what happened with Richard Jewell.
Of course left unasked in this debate is exactly who qualifies as a reporter. Presumably that would be left to the courts to sort out on a case by case basis.
The media is framing this as freedom of the press. It isn’t. The media wants the freedom to not answer questions under oath about clearly illegal activities. I’m sorry, but I don’t think a J-School degree and a stint at the NYT should grant you special legal privileges. I also don’t think freedom of the press means the freedom to cover up a crime.