As he gears up for a gubernatorial run in 2010, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch has assembled an eclectic and sometimes contrary portfolio of issue-related stances.
As I wrote earlier this year (see “Patrick Lynch goes for broke,” News, January 23), “The AG seemed a progressive champion — and he incurred the wrath of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin — when he ruled that the marriages of same-sex couples who wed out-of-state should be recognized in Rhode Island (a week earlier, his sister, Pawtucket City Solicitor Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta, had married in Massachusetts her longtime partner).
“Yet civil libertarians were outraged when Lynch, backing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance amendments, recently supported the role of private telephone companies to help US intelligence agencies.”
Earlier this year, Lynch emerged as a strong supporter of Barack Obama. Yet he has now placed himself in the ironic position of sharing George W. Bush’s stance on an impor-tant issue affecting the press — and everyone’s right to know.
As Ed Fitzpatrick reported last week in the Providence Journal, “Lynch is refusing to support the Free Flow of Information Act, which would create a qualified federal shield law for reporters,” even though the bill is backed by 42 other attorneys general.
The legislation would make it more difficult for judges to compel reporters to identify confidential sources.
Fitzpatrick’s story noted that a bipartisan letter sent by 41 attorneys general (one wrote separately to endorse the bill) “said the act would bring federal law into line with the laws of 49 states, including Rhode Island. They noted reporter shield laws have been adopted, through legislation or judicial decision, in every state but Wyoming.”
In explaining the opposition of Lynch, who last month became president of the National Association of Attorneys General, spokesman Michael J. Healey cited the issue as being one of federal legislation and how Rhode Island prosecutors bring more cases before grand juries than their out-of-state counterparts.
“Our position has nothing to do with First Amendment issues,” Healey told Fitzpatrick. “It’s simply about the propriety of a state that relies on the grand jury as much as we do telling the federal government how they should conduct grand juries. Our rationale is more based on jurisdictional issues than on philosophical issues. To be clear, we absolutely respect the work of journalists and how vital they are to our society.”
With its lack of county-based district attorneys, Rhode Island is an anomaly, and it’s no surprise that Lynch would think first of jurisdictional issues and his constituency in law en-forcement.
Ultimately, though, the ability of reporters to protect confidential sources is an issue that affects all Americans. This is a big concern in Rhode Island, where the press has his-torically played a leading role in helping to expose wrongdoing, and some sources will not come forward without a pledge of confidentiality.
The Judith Miller case showed how reporters claiming protection under a shield law are not always serving the public.
Ultimately, however — and I think Jim Taricani (who risked a prison sentence, rather than revealing a source), our late friend Jack White, and many of our colleagues would heartily agree — the ability to protect confidential sources is vital for the public interest.