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Ranking Member Nadler Opening Statement for House Judiciary Committee Constitution and Limited Government Subcommittee Hearing on “Fighting for a Free Press: Protecting Journalists and their Sources”

Today, Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement as prepared for the House Judiciary Committee Constitution and Limited Government Subcommittee Hearing titled, “Fighting for a Free Press: Protecting Journalists and their Sources”:

"Mr. Chairman, over the course of the last two decades, repeated overzealous prosecutions of leaks to the press have made it clear that Congress needs to enact a federal reporter’s shield law.  Congress must protect journalists from being compelled to reveal their confidential sources to ensure the free flow of information in matters related to the public interest.

During the 117th Congress, when I was Chairman of this Committee, we came together in a bipartisan vote to pass the “PRESS Act”, which would protect journalists and their confidential sources from compelled disclosure, except in certain rare circumstances.  It later passed the House in similar bipartisan fashion.  Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on the bill.

I was pleased, however, when the Committee, under Chairman Jordan’s leadership, built on this strong action and moved the “PRESS Act” once again this Congress, in a unanimous vote of 23-0.  It again passed the House, by voice vote. 

I think even a casual observer of the 118th Congress understands just how rare it is for me, Chairman Jordan, and practically the entire House of Representatives all to agree on the need for the same piece of legislation.  We have repeatedly come together to advance an important bill on a bipartisan basis, and we continue to share the goal of seeing this legislation become law.

That is why it is disappointing that, according to news reports, this hearing has not really been called to serve as a forum for building greater support for the bill, as the title of the hearing might suggest.

Instead, it appears that its true purpose is to provide a forum to discuss allegations that Chairman Jordan has made surrounding the termination of one of our witnesses by a news organization and to advance a false narrative about media bias.

I am sympathetic to anyone who has been abruptly laid off from a job, and I understand the resentment that someone can feel against their former employer.

But even if any allegations of so-called political bias made today are true—and to be clear, I have no reason to believe that they are true—Congress is not the proper forum for these personal grievances to be aired or resolved. 

As we listen to the testimony today, we should remember that news media organizations have their own First Amendment rights, which include the right to exercise editorial judgement about what does and does not get reported as news.  News media organizations also ultimately “speak” or “act” through their employees and agents.

Barring some other unlawful reason for termination—like race or sex discrimination—Congress does not have the authority to meddle in the relationship between reporters and their employing news organizations, especially if it is to intervene in a purported conflict over what story to investigate or not to investigate.  To do so would, in my view, run afoul of the First Amendment.

Indeed, some might even say that this very hearing is an example of the government jawboning the news media over its coverage, or lack of coverage, of a particular subject, and an improper intrusion into the affairs of the press. 

If the history of overwhelming bipartisan support for the PRESS Act is any indication, I would hope that we have universal agreement on the dais that the government should respect the independence of the free press and that we should continue our work to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources.  That is where our focus should properly lay.   

We should be jawboning the real barrier to achieving important protection for press freedom—the United States Senate, which, for the fourth time, is sitting on federal reporter’s shield legislation that the House passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I yield back the balance of my time."

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