10 March 2008

Journalist Penalized for Protecting Sources

I do not understand enough of the politics or the reasoning behind the recent cases of journalists being penalized for protecting their sources, a la Judith Miller, but I find this news pretty alarming.

A former reporter for USA Today was ordered to personally pay daily fines that could run into the thousands of dollars because she refuses to disclose certain sources of information she used in reporting on the anthrax attacks in the U.S. in 2001, media reports say.


The judge ordered that starting at midnight Tuesday, Locy must pay $500 a day for a week, $1,000 a day in the second week, and $5,000 a day after that until she names a number of her sources. A few of them have already agreed to be identified.

And the judge required her to pay the fines herself, without help from USA Today parent Gannett Co., (GCI) because she is the only person who can comply with the order to disclose her sources.

The article states that attorneys for Stephen Hatfill, named as a person of interest in a 2001 anthrax case, have asked that the journalist identify her sources. Hatfill is suing the government, claiming his reputation has been damaged and his privacy violated as a result of Justice Department conversations with reporters.

The judge overseeing the case, incidentally, is Reggie B. Walton, the same judge who heard the Scooter Libby perjury case and ordered former New York Times reporter Judith Miller to serve jail time in 2005.

Is this a case where the judge is looking to protect the citizenry from erroneous slander? An opportunity to expose poor practices at the Justice Department? A side door reprisal against a reporter or a newspaper for past reporting unrelated to the case? Or does Judge Walton really just have something against the idea that reporters may protect sources even against the wishes of the law?

I'd be interested to hear from anybody who has a sense how this all plays out.