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Reveal source or head to jail

by on October 4, 2014

This past week, we talked and read about journalists being jailed for not revealing their sources. We watched the “News Wars” documentary and it was chilling to see how far the government would go to get a source revealed to them by the press.

In one of the articles we read for class, “After Libby Trial, New Era for Government and Press” by Adam Liptak, it talked about how there had been a time of grace where reporters were not called upon to testify, and now ten out of 19 of the witnesses for the Libby trial were journalists. That number is haunting and worrisome, journalists should not be brought forward to testify, especially not that many in my opinion. The article talked about how there was a time of “prosecutiorial grace” after the Branzberg v. Hayes case, and now that time seems to be over.

I was curious if there was any news more recently about a journalist being asked to reveal a source or face jail time. I came across an article on called “Journalists watch as reporter faces jail time for not revealing sources.” Andrew Rafferty published it April 10, 2013. Basically, a reporter, Jana Winter wrote a story the year before “on the contents of a notebook that movie-theater massacre suspect James Holmes sent to his psychiatrist.” The story went viral, and Winter could be forced to testify about her source in the trial. The journal depicted details of all that Holmes planned on doing, and could violate a gag order that limits pretrial publicity.

I found this article interesting because former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who we learned about in the “News Wars” documentary because she refused to reveal her source in the Plame case, has become one of Winter’s defenders and has been praising her for standing up and not revealing her sources.

I followed up on this article and found one from May 27, 2014 by John Ingold of the Denver Post. It is titled “Fox News reporter Jana Winter won’t have to testify about the notebook in theater shooting case.” The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal and said that she did not have to testify. This proves that if journalists do stand up for themselves enough that good things can happen for them.

Do you think that it is ethical for a journalist to keep their sources anonymous, if they could help with a case that involved the murder of so many innocent lives like the Holmes movie-theater massacre? Is there ever a time where a journalist should undoubtedly reveal their source?

Obama has recently been trying to get many reporters to reveal their sources. Should the president be allowed to censor so much information and put so much pressure on the press?


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