Does the state have the right to look at a reporter's notes of a named source?

Vice was always an unreasonable facsimile of journalism, and now they are throwing a temper tantrum all the way up to the Supreme Court because they interviewed an accused terrorist on the record and the RCMP wants access to the unused information the reporter has.

This is an interesting case, and it is definitely a game of chess. When you do not understand the nuances and the landmines of being a fact-gatherer as you focus on sensational aspects of a story, you become vulnerable to those who see opportunities and grab them. The execution of the story was a tactical error, and watching the fallout is instructive.

The RCMP didn't ask for secret sources, and that is important to note -- it's a new twist, but Vice is using old scripts to fight their case:

Still, the media group said there will be a “chilling effect” if people involved in potentially illegal activities fear their comments to a reporter will be used against them in court.

This argument is nonsense, given that people in "potentially illegal activities" have to fear any and all of their comments to anyone will be used against them in court. You talk to a reporter who can choose to publish anything or everything you say, you are taking that risk for a reason. You are an adult. 

Yet this issue is not as cut and dried is it appears. Discount the "chilling effect" babble Vice is using, especially as their workplace was abusive, and had their own troubles with an editor trying to use his position to help his drug dealing.

But it is also the standard non-reason journalists whip out whenever they are asked to do something they do not want to do.

The issue isn't about protecting anonymous sources: it is about whether or not unused data from sources who are speaking on the record can be used by police. Sometimes, the information doesn't fit with the narrative of the article. Sometimes the editors cuts it because there isn't the room. Sometimes the reporter is saving it for a book or documentary. Sometimes the information would undermine the angle of the article. And sometimes, it would prove the article isn't true.

Vice's argument is curious: “This case involves conscripting the media as, in fact, the investigative arm of the state,” as their lawyer argued...

...And yet, journalists, for decades, have conscripted the state as the investigative arm of their industry. When there is a court-issued publication ban, journalists throw fits. When police hold back information, they thump their chests. They liberally use police as sources, and crib from their press conferences and media releases.

The problem is when you make demands from one side, they want the ability to do the same to you.

Should the police have the right to take the unused information from an already published story, even when it is a fishing expedition? 

That also is not a simple question to answer.

The world has recruited journalists for espionage over the decades. Sometimes spies have used the cover of reporter to do their jobs. There have been laws preventing the practice in some countries, but it is no guarantee that those laws will stay on the books.

Journalists have also swapped information with the state in order to get other information. "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours," is a gambit that often nets scoops and exclusives, but at a moral price.

In the US, there is the nebulous Espionage Act of 1917, that penalizes those who leak classified information. The Obama Administration had used the law more than any other administration, and there is always a chance a journalist will be prosecuted, even if it hasn't happened yet, and given today's political climate, it may happen sooner than we think.

What does that have to do with the current case? A lot.

The state will have disinterest in the vast majority of stories journalists do, and if they want access to what journalists have, there are numerous ways of obtaining it without the journalist ever handing over those notes and missives -- or even being aware it is happening.

There are only three places where the state is going to care: crime stories, terrorism, and classified information. It is the latter two where we can expect outside interests to meddle, and the state can use it as an excuse to want to see whether something sensitive has been leaking out.

With the Russia hysteria going on right now, the story journalists have been overplaying can come back to bite them. If the Russians, for instance, are so adept at propaganda as to alter the results of elections, then it stands to reason, they've been doing the same to reporters, and hence, their work has to be vetted, as perhaps something in the unused pile may have something more sinister that the hapless journalist missed, and when your story is about a terrorist propagandist, it sets up the perfect excuse for rummaging through your laptop.

The source wasn't afraid to talk to Vice. He wasn't afraid to burn up his Canadian passport on YouTube. I am not surprised the RCMP picked this particular story from this particular pseudo-journalism outlet to push for the right to look at anything an outlet chose not to publish. The usual sanctimonious journalistic babble rings hollow in this case. The story was used for shock value and to maintain that edgy persona. No one at Vice actually thought the angle of this story through.

If the Supreme Court decides the state was within their rights, it won't much matter because journalism has been weakened to the point of being inert. It is not much of a victory. If the Supreme Court takes pity on the profession, the state can always find another way to get what they want, as they make hints that the reason reporters didn't do the "right" thing was that they are a little too sympathetic to terrorists. When it is a forced choice between freedom of the press and personal safety, there is no competition to the middle class: they abandoned the news, but will still march for gun control.

For journalists, they lose even if they win.

In a world where privacy is a quaint and almost non-existent notion, any alternative to journalism has to take that reality into the equations because the old guard never did...