St. Louis’s chief prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce says, she has issued “hundreds of subpoenas” to media outlets in the course of her investigations over 15 years. Joyce tells Columbia Journalism Review this had never been an issue until January, when one of those subpoenas reached the desk of Margaret Freivogel, the editor of St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU). Freivogel, a 40-year veteran of the news business who plans to retire this year, not only refused to hand over any materials in response to the subpoena, which asked for audio or video recordings related to an altercation involving a police union rep at a public meeting. She defied the prosecutor's request not to disclose the existence of the subpoena itself, publishing a column calling the order “both baffling and disturbing.”
That subpoena was withdrawn in February. The issue was revived last week, when Joyce sent a second subpoena to St. Louis Public Radio, this time for materials related to the fatal shooting by police of Mansur Ball-Bey, an African American 18-year-old, in August. Again, KWMU was asked not to publicly disclose the subpoena, and again Freivogel publicly disclosed it, arguing that such orders “can have a chilling effect on reporting.” If nothing else, by bringing the issue out of the shadows, Freivogel has prompted an unusual public conversation about this prosecutorial practice—and revealed some differences of opinion among the city's journalists. Joyce has pushed back against Freivogel on Twitter, on the KWMU’s airwaves, and telling the Columbia Journalism Review that Freivogel is overreacting and abdicating her duty as a citizen. Chris King, editorial director of the St. Louis American, the city's African-American weekly, said his paper had “coughed up” some materials related to the Ball-Bey shooting investigation in compliance with a subpoena from Joyce.