Column: Congress should up protections for whistleblowers, reporters’ sources

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Each day, journalists throughout the country are working tirelessly to inform their readers what the government is up to.
The free press is one of the most important pillars of American democracy. By reporting the truth, reporters allow the citizenry to elect leaders who represent their values and ideals and craft laws and policies that they believe in.
But historically, many government officials have worked overtime to keep their misdeeds, mistakes or controversial decisions hidden from the public. Journalists often rely on whistleblowers within the government to tip them off on the decisions being made behind closed doors and give them insight into what’s really going on.
Last year, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Government Accountability Project released The Whistleblower Project, which told the stories of many of those brave and essential government and corporate workers. Often whistleblowers risk their careers and mental health to reveal the truth.
Despite being protected by a patchwork of laws, whistleblowers at city halls, state houses, at federal agencies and on Wall Street, face retaliation from their superiors and peers.
They have not been getting much support from the White House in recent years. Former President Barack Obama arrested eight people for leaking secrets under the Espionage Act. President Donald Trump has also prosecuted sources under the same law.
More troubling, Trump has waged a war on the truth. Time and time again, he has expressed his disdain for reporters, which he famously has called “enemies of the American people” as well as their sources, which he refers to as “leakers.” The Department of Justice, under Trump, has ramped up leak investigations and his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to criminally charge people who leaked classified information.
There is a reason the Trump administration has taken such as a strong stance against whistleblowers. Last year, an EPA staffer exposed how Trump’s former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides kept secret calendars and schedules so they could hide meetings and calls with coal and oil industry representatives. Pruitt resigned following the scandal.
Due to these new threats, stronger laws that protect whistleblowers have become even more vital. The Society of Professional Journalists calls on Congress to pass a strong federal shield law that better protects journalists and whistleblowers.
It also calls on new legislation that will better protect whistleblowers within the intelligence community, provide protections for congressional staffers, allow the Office of the Special Counsel to order Inspector General investigations, and consolidate the 22 different corporate whistleblower laws that are enforced by the Department of Labor.

Danielle McLean chairs the Freedom of Information Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists and is an investigative reporter at ThinkProgress.