Fox News reporter Jana Winter faces jail time for doing her job a little too well.
She’s been accused of protecting the identity of confidential sources while reporting on a major event in national history.
The story began when the 32-year-old investigative journalist refused to disclose the names of two law enforcement officials she had quoted in an article released back on July 25.
In the article, she reported that James Holmes, the author of the shooting in Aurora, Colo., kept a notebook filled with violent notes and drawings that he sent to his psychiatrist a few days before the massacre.
The report cited a confidential law enforcement official who described the notebook as “full of details about how he was going to kill people.”
It also contained gun-wielding stick figures shooting other stick figures.
Upon the publication of the article, Holmes’ attorneys claimed the revelations of the law enforcement officials violated a gag order put in place last summer after it was determined that pre-trial publicity alone could deprive a defendant of a fair trial.
The defense team attempted to hunt down and punish the original sources. When their investigation failed to uncover the leak, they began pressuring Winter to reveal her sources.
The case raises several key questions about freedom of press and potential First Amendment ramifications.
Journalists should be forced to reveal their sources only in extraordinary and crucial circumstances, which this legal situation does not seem to warrant.
After all, the court has recently unsealed private documents where it was disclosed that Holmes’ psychiatrist had warned the police a month before the shooting that he was a danger to the public.
In this context, further pressing her to reveal her source, is really of no tangible use to the case itself.
In fact, forcing her to testify will only jeopardize her career and set a precedent for future action.
She will be impaired from doing her job since the case will cause substantial damage to her reputation as a journalist and her relationship with her present and future sources.
Furthermore, it would be a contradiction to the universal journalistic principle that investigative reporting cannot, by any means, be accomplished without confidential sources.
According to Journalism Professor Len Ackland at University of Colorado, “An important way that journalists inform the public – their obligation as self-appointed, self-anointed public servants – is to have sources tell them what is really happening on matters of public interest. Such subpoenas clearly can keep journalists from doing their work as well as intimidating potential sources.”