Sen. Dick Durbin can help reverse the decline of American press freedom

Earlier in May, Reporters Without Borders released its annual World Press Freedom Index ranking the state of press freedom in 180 countries and territories. The United States fell 10 spots to 55th this year to tie its lowest-ever position in the rankings.

How could the country of the First Amendment fare so poorly on a democratic indicator as crucial as press freedom? The answer is a combination of the usual suspects: an economic landscape beset by layoffs and shutdowns, declining trust in the media, increasingly hostile attacks by politicians. There are no simple solutions to these problems. However, there is something Sen. Dick Durbin, D. Ill., could do to improve the legislative framework around press freedom, and he could do it today.

Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering a bipartisan bill to enact a press shield law known as the PRESS Act. Durbin is a co-sponsor of the bill but he has yet to schedule it for a markup, the necessary next step toward voting on this potential landmark press freedom law.

The PRESS Act protects the confidentiality of journalistic sources and bars the federal government from surveilling their phones and email, with some common-sense national security exceptions. This risk is hardly theoretical. In February, for example, former Fox and CBS News reporter Catherine Herridge was found in contempt of court when she refused to disclose her confidential source for a story.

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Most developed democracies protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources, as do 49 states, Illinois included. But these state laws don’t bind the federal government, leaving reporters and those who help them uncover vital stories exposed.

Despite the much-discussed problem of political polarization, Americans are united in the overwhelming consensus that press freedom is essential to our democracy. That’s why the PRESS Act passed the House unanimously earlier this year and stands a very good chance of passing in the Senate should it get its chance.

Durbin should be doubly motivated because the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has authority over Illinois, does not recognize a reporter’s privilege. Illinois is a hub for journalistic innovation, but risking the safety of sources inevitably chills investigative journalism, and impairs us all as citizens. After all, the PRESS Act isn’t just about protecting journalists. It’s about protecting our right to know. Durbin should finish what he started when he announced his support for the PRESS Act in these pages. Let’s make the PRESS Act the law of the land.

Clayton Weimers, executive director, Reporters Without Borders USA

Remembering the old Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry is a treasure that should be preserved, not renamed! Shame on the board of trustees. They thought so little of the treasure they were responsible for to change the name for a monetary donation.

Since I was a young child, like millions of other children, MSI has always been treasure to behold. Growing up, visiting the museum with my cousin, mother, and brother in 1957 was a treasure I will never forget. It was inspiring. I visited it every chance I had because it was a learning experience.

The MSI is all about “hope” — that humanity is inventive enough for the needs of the next generation.

I hope there is a future donor that has the foresight and courage to contribute enough money without ego to have the museum’s name changed back to The Museum of Science and Industry. That donor’s name will be remembered.

Abbott Gordon Thomas, Rockford, Minnesota

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