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B&C Editorial

Battle Cry of Press Freedom

Republicans and Democrats have both been critical of government data grabs from phone companies and -- in at least one case -- trying to treat a journalist as an accessory to espionage simply for doing his job. We are pleased the Justice Department promised to take steps to better protect journalists from government investigatory overreach. Those measures include new guidelines for seeking records related to newsgathering that require notice of that collection, and negotiations with news media ove that collection, unless doing so would "pose a clear and substantial threat" to the investigation. Previously, the presumption was that notice and negotiations would not occur unless the DOJ determined that to do so "would not" pose a substantial threat.

It also modifies search warrant policies so journalists' work cannot be sought unless it's shown to have no connection to ordinary newsgathering activities. The Attorney General also has to approve any search warrants and court orders directed to news media.

In essence, this gives the default setting notice to news media, unless there is an affirmative showing that to do so would threaten the integrity of the investigation, risk grave damage to national security or pose an imminent danger to life and limb. That's fine as far as it goes. But as everyone knows, such internal controls can change with turnover of top brass, so what this country still needs is a federal shield law.

With the spotlight still on data collection and protection -- helped by the general concern over data protection in the Internet age, a bipartisan issue -- this may be the best opportunity journalists have to get the federal protection from overreach the vast majority of states have already put on their books.

It is certainly needed as never before, given this administration's zeal for investigating journalists in their effort to plug leaks. We encourage our media brethren to continue to press Congress to pass a shield law this session.

Check and Double Check

KTVU San Francisco got pranked but good (or, to be fair, bad). It has apologized and promised to take actions to prevent a repeat performance after it aired erroneous, and racially offensive, names that were supposedly those of the pilots of the Asiana Airlines flight that crashed.

That should have been the end of it. But the station scratched the scab by reportedly invoking copyright law to try to get clips of the offending piece removed from YouTube. KTVU reportedly advertised the move as minimizing repetition of the offending names. But if its heart was in the right place, its solution was misguided.

News clips and criticism -- and the postings were arguably both -- are protected by the fair use exemption to copyright law. Posting full-length shows or movies, or other protected content without permission, is what the takedown system is meant to prevent, and rightly so. But attempts to use the law and the system to remove legitimate content just because you don't like it is not the way to go. It is akin to crying wolf, which makes it harder to police the true copyright violators.

KTVU's misfortune should be a lesson to all of us who move in a news world that travels at the speed of electrons, and one that carries the attendant competitive pressures that somehow make being fast more important than being right. To borrow from the old carpenter's saw, "check twice, report once."

No Statue of Limitations

This year's Emmy nominations demonstrated what everybody knows: Cable dramas are hot. But they also suggest that broadcast dramas are either not so hot, or perhaps are being overlooked. Who still remembers when Cable Aces were the only high cards for a cable genre that now seemingly owns the table?

The Emmy voters opened themselves up to the "overlook" charge when they failed to reward Martin Sheen for The West Wing, then Hugh Laurie for House, then Connie Britton for Friday Night Lights. If Britton wins for Nashville this year, they should make it a dual award and throw in FNL.

Perhaps there could be a "catch-up" Emmy award (Heinz could sponsor, if product placement is an incentive). Then Jackie Gleason could finally be honored for The Honeymooners. Yes, we're not joking. (Note to Emmy: "Bang, zoom!")

If you have any snubs to add to the list, email them to us at