So provides the First Amendment to the United States Constitution – the Bill of Rights – which specifically applies to every government in all the 50 states via the Fourteenth Amendment, but a Colorado Judge is threatening to jail a Fox News reporter for criminal contempt of court for exercising both of those fundamental rights while doing her job.
The Bill of rights references no exceptions whatsoever under any circumstances to the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press but governments everywhere think that they can carve out imaginary exceptions and get away with it. And they’ve been getting away with it for a long time.
Fox News reporter Jana Winter refused to reveal to a judge the names of her confidential sources for a story she wrote about a pending criminal case. So she is clearly exercising her fundamental constitutional First Amendment right of free speech, which includes the right not to speak. And she is clearly exercising her fundamental constitutional First Amendment right of freedom of the press which is her job as a news reporter.
This judge thinks he can simply ignore the First Amendment, put aside this reporter’s fundamental constitutional rights, and throw her in jail despite the fact that she has committed no crime. He wants confidential information she has and is going to imprison her if she won’t give it up.
Every news reporter knows that the identities of confidential sources must be kept strictly inviolate if they want to continue finding knowledgeable sources who will talk to them in confidence about relevant facts which might otherwise get the sources into trouble if their identities were revealed.
Confidential sources are necessary for maintaining a free press.
The infamous Watergate scandals, for example, which lead ultimately to the resignation in disgrace of a president of the United States, would in all likelihood not have been documented and proved had diligent news reporters and their sources not been able to freely rely upon confidentiality and the First Amendment to protect freedom of speech and of the press.
Here the important story was about James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooter who in a gruesome murder spree single handedly slaughtered 12 innocent people and left 58 injured on the night of July 20, 2012.
During his pretrial proceedings Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester issued several gag orders on the police and other parties involved in the case in an effort the preserve the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a trial by an impartial jury. In short, the police were ordered by the judge not to talk about the case out of court.
Never mind that such gag orders present their own unique and odious First Amendment problems because they obviously abridge free speech, but I’ll leave that issue aside for now and stick to the matter of the deprivation of Ms. Winter’s First Amendment rights.
She happened to break an exclusive story from confidential police sources revealing that, prior to the shooting, defendant Holmes had sent a package to a University of Colorado psychiatrist that included a notebook "full of details about how he was going to kill people," according to one such source, who further indicated that the notebook contained illustrations of a massacre, including drawings of gun-wielding stick figures shooting other stick figures.
The story immediately raised the ire of Holmes' defense attorneys who complained about violations of the gag orders, asserting that the disclosures have the affect of violating their client’s right to a fair trial. They insisted that the judge help them track down and punish the sources.
Keep in mind that these are the same defense attorneys who have already said publicly that their client might plead guilty if the State did not seek the death penalty. Note also that all of the information published in Ms Winter’s story will be admissible evidence at the trial so there is no possible way that Holmes would be denied a fair trial. After all, he doesn’t deny sending the notebook he wrote to the psychiatrist.
More than a dozen law enforcement officers were called to testify under oath, all of whom denied having talked to the media. Thus deprived of their objective they turned their attention to Ms Winter, the innocent news reporter, insisting that the judge force her to testify, produce all her notes and name her confidential sources.
Colorado judge Sylvester somehow managed to convince a New York judge to subpoena Ms Winter, who lives in New York, to give her testimony there. Justice Larry Stephen of Manhattan signed a subpoena. Winter’s attorneys are appealing his decision.
Winter's attorney has already stated in court that if she is put on the witness stand by force, she will not answer questions related to the identification of her sources. She would rather go to jail – for doing her job.
Sadly, there is a long history of judges in the United States of America violating their solemn oaths of office to uphold the Constitution; ignoring the First Amendment, and jailing innocent news reporters who refuse to reveal the identities of their confidential sources.
There shall be no laws abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press … (except) …