The New York Times editorializes in favor of a federal shield law to protect journalists who use unnamed sources:

Without the ability of reporters and news organizations to protect confidential sources, many important reports about illegal, incompetent or embarrassing behavior that the government is determined to conceal would never see the light of day. In recent years, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the secret C.I.A. prisons in Eastern Europe for terrorists and warrantless wiretapping all came to light through the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

If reporters can be hauled into court and forced to reveal their sources, it makes it hard for them to gain the trust of people who have information that the public needs to know, and it makes it hard for their news organizations to publish or broadcast those reports.

The bipartisan bill is backed by Senators Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania; Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York; Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; and others. It would establish a calibrated right of reporters not to reveal the name of confidential sources. It already contains many conditions and qualifications to protect national security. For example, it expressly does not cover information gained from terrorists and agents of foreign powers.

My caveat: Under the law, who gets counted as a journalist? Do bloggers count? Will the United States government get to decide who is a “real” journalist and who doesn’t fit the bill? A troubling, unintended outcome of a federal shield law could be the de facto licensing of journalists.