US Falls to 53rd in 'Press Freedoms' According to Advocacy Group Survey
Bush's Big Government Keeps Getting Bigger and Bigger...
By Brad Friedman on 11/14/2006, 11:24am PT  

This isn't about baseball or steroids, or even the U.S. Congress's recent and shameless waste of tax-payer money in holding hearings about them --- while other actual issues requiring Congressional oversight have been completely ignored.

It's about the Bush Administration's continuing encroachment on the rights of a free press, their contempt for whistleblowers, and their attempts to chill much-needed and far-too-rare investigative reporting.

It seems that two San Francisco Chronicle reporters may now be facing 18 months of jail time each for having reported on leaked grand jury information from the recent steroids investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), whose banned products were apparently used by a number of big leaguers including Bary Bonds and Jason Giambi.

As the Los Angeles Times is reporting today, reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, twice praised by George W. Bush for having "done a service" at a private reception before the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2005, are now staring down the barrel of a prison sentence which would be longer "than the combined sentences of all the defendants convicted in the steroid scandal they helped expose."

Even a former member of John Aschroft's Justice Department is calling the developments "very disturbing" and says outright that this precedent could lead to the end of "confidential-source reporting as you know it."...

"This is very disturbing," said Mark Corallo, who was director of public affairs for the Justice Department under former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and involved in reviewing requests for media subpoenas.

"There is no national security issue here. There is no public safety issue. If they can make this the standard, then confidential-source reporting as you know it is done, over."

The reporters disclosed information they were able to glean from sources after the grand jury investigating the steroids business had already ended, and after transcripts from the proceedings were given to prosecutors, defense attorneys and defendants prior to trial.

The apparent intimidation of Fainaru-Wada and Williams through the use of Federal proceedings against them (California has a "Shield Law" to protect the journalists from having to expose sources, but nothing stops the Feds, at this point, from bringing to bear their considerable and over-zealous assaults against the few investigative types left in the fourth-estate) has also troulbed DoJ officials in previous administrations as well:

Forcing the reporters to testify, they wrote, would set a debilitating precedent for investigative journalism. "These revelations could never have been made but for the promise two Chronicle reporters made to confidential sources that this story of sports gone awry would be told fully and accurately and that the journalists would never reveal their sources' identities."

Two former Justice Department officials backed them.

Jamie S. Gorelick, deputy attorney general under Janet Reno from 1994 to 1997, filed an affidavit saying that long-standing internal guidelines dictate that media subpoenas be issued only when "immediate action is required to avoid loss of life or the compromise of a security interest."

Corallo, the former public affairs director, wrote: "Based on my experience, I believe that the subpoenas would not have been issued under former attorney Ashcroft's administration for the further reason that compelling the reporters to testify in this instance would have an incalculable chilling effect on the press."

It's notable that Corallo feels that even the Ashcroft DoJ would not have brought these charges. Which says a lot about how radical and extremist the current department has become under Bush crony Alberto Gonzales.

A spokesperson from Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based advocacy group, says the U.S. has fallen from 17th in 2002 to 53rd in 2005 in their most recent rankings of press freedoms around the world. "The main thing in the U.S. is attacks on confidential sources," the spokesperson said.

The BRAD BLOG has no shortage of compassion and empathy for what these two guys are going through. We'd be able to do very little here were it not for sources who share important information with us under the promise that their identities would be kept confidential.

The LA Times report concludes with thoughts from the two journalists...

Williams, a reporter for 33 years, said he'd lose his credibility if he gave up the source.

Fainaru-Wada, a reporter for 17 years, said he and his wife have braced his 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter for the possibility that he might go to prison. "We tried to make it as fundamental as possible: "We made promises, you need to keep promises."