Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters are due in court tomorrow to tell a federal judge why they shouldn’t be jailed for refusing to say who leaked them confidential grand jury testimony they reported in exposing the use of performance-enhancing drugs by elite athletes. The Chronicle says that the articles by reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams helped change the culture of sports, inspiring a tougher steroids policy in Major League Baseball and creating a greater awareness of steroid abuse among young athletes.
If U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White orders Williams and Fainaru-Wada jailed for refusing to reveal their source or sources, the case could have a chilling effect on all sorts of investigative reporting. Eve Burton, general counsel of Chronicle owner the Hearst Corp., argues that the transcripts no longer enjoyed the protection of grand jury testimony after the government turned them over for use in the criminal trial. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on a proposed federal shield law that would allow journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources except in cases involving national security. If the measure doesn’t pass, expect more reporters to be taken to court, said Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Maintaining a source’s identity is sacrosanct to investigative reporters, she said, so “you’d better start building more jails now.” Thirty-one states have shield laws.