For decades now, Fox News has been a serial abuser of the First Amendment. They have managed to redefine the word “news” by going to court, seeking and receiving legal permission to lie. Is it any surprise that now, when a Fox News reporter truly does need the media to defend her First Amendment rights, the network is treated with all the respect of the Boy Who Cried Wolf?
A Fox News reporter is facing jail time over her refusal to reveal a source she used in a story, an episode receiving remarkably little attention in the mainstream press — and prompting suggestions on the right that the media and advocates are ignoring Jana Winter’s plight because of hostility to her employer.
Jana Winter, a reporter for FoxNews.com and former New York Post reporter, reported on July 25 on a notebook alleged Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes sent to a University of Colorado psychologist “full of details about how he was going to kill people.”
In Winter’s story, she described the notebook, indicating it included illustrations of a massacre drawn using stick figures. The notebook and other items in a package the alleged shooter sent to the psychologist were “made subject to a protective order,” according to court documents filed in Arapahoe County Courthouse.
Approximately a month before the notorious mass shooting in Aurora, CO, which left 12 dead and at least 70 injured, James Holmes, the shooter, saw a psychiatrist. He expressed homicidal thoughts and after just one session, the psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, shared her concerns with a campus police officer. She also told the police officer, Lynn Whitten, that Holmes “threatened and harassed her via email/text messages.”
In response, Whitten deactivated Holmes’ keycard, which was used to access classrooms and laboratories.
The notebook, which was obtained by Fox News reporter Jana Winter, provides a visual demonstration of a deeply disturbed individual and Fox News’ Jana Winter was the first to break its existence.
The judge in the case, William Sylvester, wants to know where Winter got her information and in true investigative journalist fashion, she is refusing to reveal her sources. For that, she might face jail, despite Colorado’s shield laws, which protect the reporter/source relationship.
In a case where the journalistic establishment should be rallying in Winter’s defense, the response has largely been crickets. Her case is probably not being helped with defenders like Fox News’ Judith Miller, who while working for the New York Times, wrote fictitious stories of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Miller was herself jailed for refusing to reveal the sources who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. From Fox News:
“I had a very similar situation to Jana’s,” Miller said Monday. “Jana broke a very important story in this case, but nevertheless I was faced with the same choice and I made the same decision that she seems to be making.”
Miller said reporters must be allowed to develop “personal trust” with sources. Otherwise, citizens will be forced to be dependent on what government entities and officials disclose to the public, she said.
“If we’re dependent on what the government tells us, the public never really gets to know what it needs to know about a situation,” Miller said. “And we can’t do our jobs without investigative reporting. That is, without going out and talking to people whom perhaps the government doesn’t want us to talk to, to give the public the full story, which is very much what Jana did and I tried to do.”
Miller continued: “But if we don’t have that personal relationship and a relationship of trust with our sources, people won’t tell us things, because they really are risking their careers when they tell us something that perhaps the government doesn’t want us to know.”
The right, of course, is claiming that Spellman is admitting a liberal media bias, when all he is truly admitting is an anti-Fox bias.
Fox News has painted themselves into a corner. The “fair and balanced” network has made a mockery of journalism and of our democracy. Now, the bully wants its victims to come to their rescue.
The sad fact is that in this case, the media does need to come to Fox’s and to Winter’s rescue – or at least rally behind her. This case is not like Judith Miller’s. Winter was not acting as a stooge to a corrupt presidential administration. She was acting as a reporter. As much as Fox is undeserving of our help, we do still need to respect the job of a reporter, not matter how despicable we find her employer to be.
A decision on the case will be made Wednesday.
UPDATE: According to the Denver Post, Winter has been granted a reprieve until the judge can determine whether the notebook will be allowed as evidence.
|Wendy Gittleson grew up in a political family. Her passion is for social justice and fairness. She lives in a union household. In her rare downtime, you’ll find her hiking or exploring the shoreline with her dogs. Follow her on her Facebook page, on her Facebook blog page or on Twitter, @wendygittleson|