INDIANAPOLIS | The U.S. Justice Department seizure of reporter telephone records likely would be a crime if Gov. Mike Pence had won passage of the federal media shield law he championed in Congress.
Pence, a Republican who served in the U.S. House from 2003 until January, repeatedly sponsored legislation establishing a federal prohibition on reporters being forced to reveal confidential sources, except in the case of imminent death or terrorist attack.
His Free Flow of Information Act also would have prohibited government agencies from obtaining reporter telephone records from communications companies without the approval of a federal judge.
Pence told a 2011 national convention of editorial writers meeting in Indianapolis that important conduits of information would be shut down if reporters could not guarantee confidentiality to their sources.
"As a conservative who believes in limited government, I know the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press," Pence said. "Without the free flow of information from sources to reporters, the public is ill-equipped to make informed decisions."
The House approved Pence's media shield legislation in 2007 and 2009, but it died in the Senate both times, despite the efforts of former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., a co-sponsor.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder derailed the 2009 proposal by demanding an exception for leaks the administration considered a "significant" harm to national security.
Congressional supporters balked at their request to create a broad exception to confidentiality and giving the administration sole authority to determine when it applies.
Holder said this week the Justice Department's secret review of Associated Press phone records was part of an investigation of a grave national security leak that "put the American people at risk," though he did not specify the danger.
Lee Enterprises, owner of The Times Media Co., joined more than 50 news organizations Tuesday in criticizing the Justice Department's "overreaching dragnet" and demanding Congress pass a federal media shield law.
Lee President and CEO Mary Junck, a Valparaiso University graduate, is chairwoman of the AP board of directors.
Indiana law, since 1941, provides reporters absolute protection against being compelled to disclose the source of any information gathered in the course of their employment.