After all, there was a widespread media outcry when Judith Miller, a Times reporter who was essentially operating as a propaganda conduit for the Bush-Cheney administration in the ramp-up to the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, was jailed for 85 days after refusing to reveal her source in the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame. That source was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. When the court held her in contempt, the Times and other media stood firmly behind Miller until Libby finally gave her written permission to testify and she was released.
Winter is the Fox reporter who wrote a story about a notebook sent to his psychiatrist by James Holmes, the gunslinger who has been indicted for shooting 70 people in an Aurora, Colorado, theater last summer, killing 12 of them. The chilling notebook was found after the shooting in the campus mailroom at the University of Colorado, where Holmes had been enrolled:
"Inside the package was a notebook full of details about how he was going to kill people," the source told FoxNews.com. "There were drawings of what he was going to do in it -- drawings and illustrations of the massacre."The FBI took custody of the notebook. Holmes's lawyers subsequently obtained the go-ahead to subpoena Winter from the then-judge in the case. On Wednesday, the new judge will decide whether she has to testify in the case. Her lawyer has said she will not. That means she could be held in contempt and sent to jail until she gives up her source. Just because she works for Fox, and just because the case doesn't have the impact that the Plame case did, doesn't mean big media should ignore it.
Please continue to read more about Winter's situation below the fold.
Reporters often depend on anonymous sources to pry out information they could not otherwise obtain. Those who betray their sources and remain journalists can face a lifetime of covering school boards and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Thus, faced with jail time, a few journalists refuse to budge.
For instance, in 2006, self-professed anarchist and freelance video blogger Josh Wolf was incarcerated when he refused to turn over a videotape said to contain footage of protesters damaging a police car. He spent 226 days in a federal prison before he was finally released in April 2007, a record for an American journalist.
The National Press Club has stood up for Winter. On Friday, NPC President Angela Greiling Keane said:
"Courts have the right to enforce the confidentiality of investigations, and that may in some cases require punishing leakers," National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane said. "But attempting to get that information by subpoenaing reporters in order to learn their anonymous sources goes too far. It jeopardizes a value of greater significance. If anonymous sources believe their identities can be dredged up in court, they will be less likely to disclose to the press information of vital public importance. That's not a risk worth increasing."I can speak from personal experience in several instances. Once, anonymous sources provided me with information whose revelation in print eventually led to the closing and mandated clean-up of a massively polluted uranium mill operation in Uravan, Colorado, in the 1980s. If those sources had thought I would expose their identities, I would never have been able to write that story.
Most investigative reporters find themselves in that situation at least once in their careers. And they should be protected from having to reveal sources, no matter who their employer is. In Miller's case, of course, she wasn't protecting a private source calling into question malfeasance or other misbehavior by a government official. Instead she was protecting a self-interested public official who was trying to alter the national narrative in the midst of a war whose motivations were fabricated. But building reporter shield laws that protect some kinds of sources and not others presents considerable problems.
Colorado's press shield law protects reporters who seek to keep the name of a source secret. But a judge can compel compliance if the information can't be obtained in any other way. In Winter's case, the need to know who her source is seems utterly superfluous to the case.
It can be argued that police and prosecutors shouldn't reveal aspects of cases under investigation. But reporters shouldn't be punished for getting them to do so despite the fact that the Judith Millers of the world will abuse their privilege to spread lies. And media shouldn't make choices about which reporters to spotlight based on their ideology. Nor should we as citizens support reporters who try to protect their sources based on which media they work for no matter how much their employer may cause us to grind our molars.