“Freedom of Speech” versus Jurisprudence. Which one should take precedence over the other when the two entities are in contradiction? The two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who wrote the book that detailed Barry Bonds steroid use are now being forced, by a U.S. District Judge, to reveal the sources who leaked the grand jury testimony that is prevalent in their book, or they must go to prison. For the past few days, many journalists and broadcasters have debated over the issue. And because many of them are graduates of journalism school, the majority of journalists believe that the two reporters should not have to reveal their sources, however, my opinion lies with the minority.
Of course they should be forced to reveal their sources! Freedom of speech and press are rights that are asserted under the notion that they are being practiced under the pretense of all the other laws. You cannot choose to uphold one law, but ignore the others and expect to go unprosecuted. The two reporters either sought out or obtained illegal information from people behaving in an illegal manner. To call them an accessory to the crime of leaking grand jury testimony might seem excessive to some, but it makes perfect sense to me. Someone gave them illegal information, and the authors knowingly spread illegal knowledge to a national audience. The fact that this nation’s rights allow for them to make a profit off illegal information is great for them, because in my opinion that ought to be against the law as well. However, because they were not actually at the grand jury hearings, they are not held responsible for the spread of the illegal information, but are purely being asked to reveal those who helped them leak grand jury testimony. By not revealing their sources, these two men are being an accessory to the criminals who did leak the information. If a client tells his lawyer that he committed the murder, then the lawyer is obligated to go to the proper authorities and give up his right to attorney-client privileged information. If a doctor concludes that a wife was beaten up by her husband, he or she must also go to the authorities and give up that same information, even if it is against his or her client’s will. So please explain to me why these two Sports reporters are thought to have been improperly sanctioned by the law by some of the brightest journalists in the business? Are these two sports reporters above the law? Is their journalistic integrity of more importance than attorney-client privilege, or doctor-patient confidentiality? I don’t think so.
Now let me clarify my argument to this point. In no way am I saying that these two reporters should reveal their sources. I too am an aspiring journalist, and I would never ever give up my sources for any article or piece of information that I arrived upon. I completely understand these 2 reporters’ will to keep their sources secret, as they would never be able to practice their profession to the best of their abilities if they did turn in their sources. They got into the journalistic profession because they believed in being able to spread knowledge and privileged information to the masses who do not have access to the sources that they do. To give up their sources would mean that they could no longer practice spreading knowledge because they would never obtain it from anyone ever again- and that I understand.
However, the law is the law, and sports reporters, and all reporters alike, are subject to it. We are not above it, and never should we claim to be. But many journalists and broadcasters are disgusted by the fact that the government is forcing these 2 individuals to give up the sources who are guilty of illegal activity. But if you see someone killed are you not ethically supposed to go to the police and report it? If somebody robbed your house while you were on vacation, would you not expect your neighbor who happened to witness the entire thing to file a police report of what he or she saw? Of course you would. Now granted, we are talking about the leaking of information pertaining to steroid use and not a killing spree or grand larceny, but the law is the law, and it must be upheld in all situations. After all, the people who leaked the information found steroid use important enough for them to break the confines of grand jury practice. And if that’s the case, then leaking grand jury testimony on steroid use is also important enough to be of concern to the government.
Many of you are aware of the fact that much of the legal system is practiced under the notion of the precedents set before each case. Many laws and rights that are being debated in legal cases are determined to be legal or illegal because of what may have been determined in past trials of similar nature. So let us call this situation the Williams & Fainaru-WadaTrial. And let’s say that the court ended up ruling that these two did not have to be forced to reveal their sources because of their journalistic rights that are presented under the Freedom of Press and any other possible rights that are upheld in The Constitution. But then somewhere in the future, a young lady is beaten by her wealthy husband, and he brings her into the hospital in order to get her patched up. The doctor then examines her, and due to his medical findings, he decides that he must go to the police and tell them that the young lady’s husband has been beating her, even though the young lady has privately told the doctor that she does not want him to do that out of her own personal fear of being beaten again. When the wealthy husband goes on trial, his lawyer says that the doctor was instructed by his patient not to go to the authorities, and by the findings upheld in the & Fainaru-WadaTrial, the doctor’s legal obligation to go to the police with the information was unconstitutional. The judge then is forced to dismiss the case and the wealthy man goes back to beating his wife.
But if that situation is not enough of a reason that the two reporters should be put in jail if they do not give up their sources, here is another one. What if somebody leaks information that is a matter of national security, or of proposed attacks on another nation that if not held confidential would result in the attacks having to be called off. Or worst yet, what if information of a proposed attack is mentioned in grand jury testimony, but is leaked to the nation who is attacked, leading them to properly counter that assault resulting in thousands of unplanned American and/or civilian deaths. These examples are the reasons why grand jury testimony is supposed to be secret. And if we sit back allow people to continuously not only leak the information, but obtain the illegal knowledge and then spread it to masses with out even being held responsible for being an accessory to the person who committed the crime, then it will lead to one of two things. The first, and less likely option, being that information will continue to leak and leak, and leak, and leak, and leak, because people know that all they have to do is go to an honorable journalist who can spread the information without being prosecuted. Or secondly, and the more likely alternative, is that people will just stop giving up information in grand jury trials. Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi will not admit to having done steroids. Israeli nationalists will not tell the federal government that Osama is behind 9/11. Extortionists, money launderers, mob members, and other criminals will not give up the leaders behind their actions, and the police and FBI will no longer be able to solve half the crimes and felonies that they do now because the supposed confidentiality of grand jury testimony will no longer be trusted by those being prosecuted.
Readers, please listen. If somebody tells me about Osama’s plans to bomb some small nation in the Pacific Ocean, and that somebody got that information from an al-Qaeda associate who testified this in a grand jury hearing, and then I go out and publish it so that the world and Osama can see it, you best believe I am going to jail, by letter of the law, if I do not tell the government who gave me that information. And you would too! And even though we are only talking about information related to steroid use, that does not mean that the same letter of the law should not be applicable to the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters. Like it or not, we chose to live in this country, and so we must live by its laws. I hope the reporters uphold their journalistic integrity, for their sake, and for the sake of my profession. But they should go to jail if they choose not to give up their sources, because these guys knew what they were getting into when they obtained this illegal information, and also, this is what must be done to uphold the law and legal tradition in this country.