Floyd Abrams: Journalist is no longer ‘romantic hero’

February 14, 2007

February 14, 2007 — At his Shorenstein Center brown-bag lunch, Floyd Abrams, an attorney specializing in freedom of speech and press issues, spoke about the intersection of law and journalism.

Co-counsel for the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case, Abrams was also one of Judith Miller’s attorneys in the recent CIA leak investigation. Abrams said that while the law is not conclusive about protecting journalists from revealing their sources in front of a federal grand jury, “in the last year, the law is becoming a lot clearer than it might have been.”

The direction the law is moving in, he added, is not favorable to journalists. Abrams said that attorneys are increasingly having to counsel journalists to “behave like drug dealers”: to not communicate with sources via email or any company property, to not write down or record conversations, and if notes are taken, to destroy them. He also commented on what he believes to be the great irony of the ongoing Libby trial — that Judith Miller went to jail for a story she never wrote, and for a promise of confidentiality she never explicitly made.

While the status of legal protection for journalists over the issue of source protection remains in flux, one thing is certain, according to Abrams: “the era of the journalist as romantic hero has come and gone.”