A federal prosecutor may inspect the telephone records of two New York Times reporters in an effort to identify their confidential sources, a federal appeals court in New York ruled yesterday. The 2-to-1 decision, from a court historically sympathetic to claims that journalists should be entitled to protect their sources, reversed a lower court and dealt a further setback to news organizations, which have lately been on a losing streak in the federal courts, reports the Times.
The dissenting judge said that the government had failed to demonstrate it truly needed the records and that efforts to obtain reporters' phone records could alter the way news gathering was conducted. The case arose from a Chicago grand jury's investigation into who told the two reporters, Judith Miller and Philip Shenon, about actions the government was planning to take against two Islamic charities, Holy Land Foundation in Texas and Global Relief Foundation in Illinois. Though the government contended that calls from the reporters tipped off the charities to impending raids and asset seizures, the investigation appears to be focused on identifying the reporters' sources. No testimony has been sought from the reporters, and there has been no indication that their actions are a subject of the investigation.