- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

A reporter splashes the confidential grand jury testimony of a mobster on the front page of the newspaper, which eventually results in the mobster’s death.

The government, of course, pursues the identity of the person or persons who leaked the information and violated the law.

The reporter, in clutching the First Amendment, refuses to reveal the name or names of the law-breakers and is sentenced to jail.

Would anyone be feeling the reporter’s pain or holding up the reporter as a beacon of journalistic integrity?


Yet down the journalistic food chain, there is a rallying to the cause of Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO story that changed the way we viewed Barry Bonds, among others.

Both reporters undoubtedly provided a valuable public service in initiating a national conversation on a subject left too long in the shadows of the games.

Yet they did so with the help of a law-breaker or law-breakers. And now the two reporters are in violation of the law after refusing to surrender the identity or identities of their sources to the government.

And our government has every right to be seeking this information, assuming witnesses in cases far more important than BALCO expect the government to keep up its end of a confidentiality agreement.

The two reporters knew what they were up against as they broke the story and later wrote a book on the subject.

They could have told their source or sources that they would grant anonymity up to the point of being in violation of the law themselves.

It is possible they would not have secured the information then.

But this was the high-stakes game they chose to play.

They rolled the dice, and it paid off handsomely on the professional end.

Legally, however, they have a serious problem, as well they should.

It is hard to claim the moral high ground if you are placing a higher value on your word than the word of the grand jury.

And the law cannot be selectively applied, as so many of the sanctimonious louses in the industry would have it.

The government breaks a high number of cases on the basis of confidentiality. The government cannot look the other way in this instance because it is only sports and not a matter involving national security or a crime ring.

You could imagine a federal investigator pitching a secret testimony option to a person involved in money-laundering ring, with the person, saying, “Yeah, your definition of confidentiality worked out really well in the BALCO case. I will be a dead man soon after I walk out of that court room.”

It is impossible to know the motivation of the person or persons who leaked the information to the reporters. Perhaps it was nothing more than being offended by the hypocrisy of the big-name athletes involved in the scandal.

Whatever the motivation, the source or sources violated a sacred tenet of the legal process and is hardly noble.

Forget, for a moment, the blabbermouth on a grand jury.

Anyone who ever has told something in confidence to a friend, only to discover the friend has betrayed you, knows just how infuriating the breaking of a secret is.

We dress this despicable act up in journalism and call it a greater good.

The reporters have every right to stick to their principles and exhaust the legal process.

They gave their word to a weasel or weasels and appear prepared for the consequences, which is more than you can say for the weasel or weasels.

By now, if the weasel or weasels had a modicum of honor, they would relieve the reporters of their own “confidentiality agreement.”

It is funny how the reporters feel bound to a person or persons who felt no such impulse with a secret grand jury.

The reporters are facing an 18-month sentence, an unsettling prospect no doubt.

But if they persist in protecting their vermin, they must do the time.

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