SBD/Issue 9/Law & Politics

Chronicle Reporters Given Up To 18 Months For Not Testifying

Williams (l) And Fainaru-Wada
To Appeal Jail Sentence
S.F. Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada plan to appeal U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White’s sentence of a maximum of 18 months in jail “for refusing to reveal” their sources of leaked grand jury testimony from the federal BALCO investigation, according to Stuart Silverstein of the L.A. TIMES. The reporters will remain free until the appeal is heard. White accepted the prosecutor’s arguments that “journalists have no special protection from grand jury inquiries” (L.A. TIMES, 9/22). The AP’s Marcus Wohlsen reports if Williams and Fainaru-Wada refuse to testify, they could “remain in prison until the current grand jury term expires,” which could come as late as October ’07. Williams said, “I do despair for our country if we go very far down this road, because no one will talk to reporters.” Wohlsen notes a bipartisan bill is before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that would give reporters “protection from revealing their confidential sources in cases that involve federal authorities.” Media shield laws are in place in 31 states and DC (AP, 9/22). S.F. Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein said White’s decision “speaks eloquently for the need for a federal shield law. It’s a tragedy that the government seeks to put reporters in jail for doing their jobs.” In N.Y., Thompson & Quinn write a federal shield law would be applied retroactively and “almost certainly would release Williams and Fainaru-Wada from the district court’s ruling.” Without any intervention, the reporters “could spend more time in prison than all of the BALCO defendants combined” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/22).

WRITERS RALLY IN SUPPORT: In Oakland, Art Spander reports he and several other sportswriters, including the Chicago Sun-Times’ Rick Telander, ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, the N.Y. Daily News’ T.J. Quinn, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s Bob Padecky, the S.F. Chronicle’s Gwen Knapp and the Oakland Tribune’s Dave Newhouse, appeared at the courthouse wearing T-shirts saying “Sportswriters for Freedom of the Press.” Spander: “We, sportswriters, the people who normally comment on the news, not make it, ... had been trying to send a message. Trying to say one of the principles upon which this nation was founded was in danger” (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 9/22). Telander, who spearheaded the protest, writes, “Sportswriters never are united by any cause ... yet here was something that affected us all. ... We are linked now. And we won’t be split” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/22).

MORE REAX: In Toronto, Stephen Brunt writes, “In this case, the law is pretty clear against them. ... So Fainaru-Wada and Williams will be locked up once their appeals are exhausted. And, no, that doesn’t seem right” (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 9/22). In Baltimore, Rick Maese writes, “Once their ability to do their jobs is impaired, a chain reaction is set off. If a reporter can’t promise key sources anonymity, people won’t share important information and big stories will go unreported. The ultimate victim is a society that’s less informed” (Baltimore SUN, 9/22). ESPN.com’s Wright Thompson wrote Thursday was a day “in which the government won and we all lost” (ESPN.com, 9/21).

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