Reporter Faces Jail Time Over Source for James Holmes Notebook
A judge has threatened a journalist with the possibility of up to six months in jail if she refuses to reveal her source
FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter is being pressed by James Holmes' defense attorneys to reveal her source for information about a notebook Holmes sent to his psychiatrist before the Aurora theater shooting. Defense attorneys contend her source must have violated a gag order by the judge. In a hearing in December, 14 law enforcement officials were questioned about the notebook, but none admitted to being the source. The judge wants one more detective questioned before compelling the reporter to take the stand. Winter could face up to six months in jail if she doesn't identify her source in that case; she's indicated through her attorney that she doesn't intend to reveal her source in court.
Winter is theoretically protected from being forced to reveal her source by shield laws that exist in both New York and Colorado, as well as a plain reading of the First Amendment, as Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News' senior judicial analyst and a Reason contributor, noted yesterday:
The whole purpose of the First Amendment is to stimulate and protect open, wide, robust debate about the policies and personnel of the government. Truth is essential to that stimulation. Putting reporters in jail for revealing the truth while protecting their sources is profoundly contrary to that purpose and highly offensive to the values the First Amendment was written to protect and we have all come to enjoy.
A New York judge signed off on the Colorado judge's subpoena of Winter, who showed up in court Monday but did not yet have to testify. Her attorneys are looking to avoid her returning to Colorado all together, or at least until a court in New York has reviewed their appeal. As I noted about this case last month, New York's shield law is more robust than Colorado's, which allows a journalist to be compelled to reveal her sources if all other avenues of uncovering the information have been exhausted. The information sought also has to be substantially relevant to the case, which Winter's attorneys argue it is not. Journalists, of course, need to be able to protect their sources' confidentiality across the board in order to be able to secure confidential sources for any stories, it's a necessary foundation of free press. When the government takes for itself the power to compel a journalist to break the confidentiality of their sources or newsgathering methods, it erodes that foundation.