On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., gave 118-page set of opinions that in essence means any journalist reporting against the government is fair game and either has to expose his/her sources or face criminal prosecution.
The ruling specifically mentions that reporters who receive unauthorized leaks (never heard of something termed authorized leaks, anyway) cannot invoke the First Amendment to prevent testifying against people suspected of making the leaks.
In other words, if you report on government overreach, either you identify your source, who goes to jail, or you go to jail.
The Fourth Circuit just added a new dimension to the history of right to information in general and the freedom of the press in particular.
The ruling was given in a case where James Risen, an author and a reporter of New York Times, challenged the government’s right to compel him to testify against a former CIA official charged with leaking information to the reporter.
A lower court had ruled that Risen was not required to testify and he could invoke protection of the First Amendment, but the Fourth Circuit have now clarified that Risen must testify and his First Amendment rights do not come into play in this respect. It is there in every other thing, and as long as reporters are good boys and toe the government line, otherwise, no.
Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr. observed while writing for the majority, “Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony.”
The New York Times posted that Mr. Risen has vowed to go to prison rather than testify about his sources and to carry any appeal as far as the Supreme Court.
Writing in dissent, Judge Roger Gregory observed, “The majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society.”
The DOJ welcomed the decision.
Though the precedent applies only to the Fourth Circuit, given that most national security agencies, including the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have headquarters within the jurisdiction of the Fourth circuit, US citizens can say goodbye to investigative journalism against government overreach, or overreach by government security agencies.