They’re Throwing Journalists Into Jail Right Here In The USA


Richard Moore

From: "Eric Stewart" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: They're Throwing Journalists Into Jail Right Here In The USA

Featured in Columns & Editorial

They're Throwing Journalists Into Jail Right Here In The USA

Published on 11/11/2004

Paging China! Help us! Urge the U.S. government to respect
freedom of the press!

It does sound topsy-turvy, doesn't it? Generally, it's China
and Zimbabwe that are throwing journalists in prison, while
the U.S. denounces the repression over there.

But now similar abuses are about to unfold within the United
States, part of an alarming new pattern of assault on American
freedom of the press. In the last few months, three different
U.S. federal judges, each appointed by President Ronald
Reagan, have found a total of eight journalists in contempt of
court for refusing to reveal confidential sources, and the
first of them may go to prison before the year is out. Some of
the rest may be in prison by spring.

The first reporter likely to go to jail is Jim Taricani, a
television reporter for the NBC station in Providence.
Taricani obtained and broadcast, completely legally, a
videotape of a city official as he accepted an envelope full
of cash.

U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres found Taricani in contempt
for refusing to identify the person he got the videotape from,
and the judge fined him $1,000 a day. That hasn't broken
Taricani, so Torres has set a hearing for Nov. 18 to decide
whether to squeeze him by throwing him in jail.

Then there's Patrick Fitzgerald, the overzealous special
prosecutor who is the Inspector Javert of our age. Fitzgerald
hasn't made any progress in punishing the White House
officials believed to have leaked the identity of the CIA
officer Valerie Plame to Robert Novak. But Fitzgerald seems
determined to imprison two reporters who committed no crime,
Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of
Time, because they won't blab about confidential sources.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan is threatening to send them
to prison; a hearing is set for Dec. 8. As for Novak, he is in
no apparent jeopardy, for reasons that remain unclear.

Then there's a third case, a civil suit between the nuclear
scientist Wen Ho Lee and the government. Judge Thomas Penfield
Jackson held five reporters who are not even parties to the
suit in contempt for refusing to reveal confidential sources.

In yet another case, the Justice Department is backing a
prosecutor's effort to get a record of telephone calls made by
two New York Times reporters - uncovering all their
confidential sources in the fall of 2001. Put all this
together, and we're seeing a broad assault on freedom of the
press that would appall us if it were happening in Kazakhstan.

Responsibility lies primarily with the judges rather than with
the Bush administration, except for the demand for phone
records and for the appointment of Inspector Javert as special

But it's probably not a coincidence that we're seeing an
offensive against press freedoms during an administration that
has a Brezhnevian fondness for secrecy.

We journalists are in this mess partly because we're widely
seen as arrogant and biased, and we need to wrestle seriously
with those issues. But when reporters face jail for doing
their jobs, the ultimate victim is the free flow of
information, the circulatory system of any democracy.

The Chinese government recently arrested Zhao Yan, a research
assistant for The New York Times in Beijing, and the Bush
administration has been very helpful about protesting the
case. Maybe Colin Powell can work out a deal: The Chinese
government will stop imprisoning journalists if the U.S.
government will do the same.

Protecting confidential sources has been a sacred ethical
precept in publishing ever since John Twyn was arrested in
1663 for printing a book that offended the king. Twyn refused
to reveal the name of the book's author, so he was publicly
castrated and disemboweled, and his limbs severed from his
body. Each piece of his body was nailed to a London gate or

So, on the bright side, we have evidently progressed.

In May, Iran's secret police detained me in Tehran and
demanded that I identify a revolutionary guard I had quoted as
saying "to hell with the mullahs." My interrogators threatened
to imprison me unless I revealed my source. But after a
standoff, the Iranian goons let me go. Imprisoning Western
journalists for protecting their sources was too medieval,
even for them. Let's hope the U.S. judicial system shows the
same restraint as those Iranian thugs.

Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.  

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

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