National Press Club

Press Club: Judge should drop effort to compel reporter to reveal anonymous sources

April 5, 2013 | By John Donnelly | JDonnelly@cq.com

The National Press Club on April 5 respectfully urged a Colorado judge to drop his push to force a reporter to reveal her confidential sources for a story about the alleged shooter in the last July’s shooting spree in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

Jana Winter of Fox News reported days after the deadly shooting that the defendant in the case, James Holmes, had sent his psychiatrist detailed drawings of people being killed before the shootings occurred. All information in the investigation of Holmes was under seal. Winter had cited law-enforcement officials as her source.

Colorado has a shield law that protects reporters from being forced to disclose confidential sources but it allows judges to compel disclosure in certain circumstances after other options for finding the source have been exhausted. The judge is reportedly taking these initial steps to find out who told Winter about the letters but he has nonetheless subpoenaed Winter to testify.

"Courts have the right to enforce the confidentiality of investigations and that may in some cases require punishing leakers," NPC President Angela Greiling Keane said. "But attempting to get that information by subpoenaing reporters in order to learn their anonymous sources goes too far. It jeopardizes a value of greater significance. If anonymous sources believe their identities can be dredged up in court, they will be less likely to disclose to the press information of vital public importance. That’s not a risk worth increasing."