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ABC reporters' records released despite judge's stay

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ABC reporters' records released despite judge's stay03/07/95 NEW YORK -- In late January, in connection with Philip Morris's libel suit…

ABC reporters’ records released despite judge’s stay


NEW YORK — In late January, in connection with Philip Morris’s libel suit against ABC, the American Express company mistakenly released more extensive records of ABC reporters’ accounts than were required by a subpoena, as well as the records of journalists completely unrelated to the case.

American Express provided the credit card records to Philip Morris immediately after Richmond Circuit Court Judge T.J. Markow refused to quash the subpoena, but before the judge stayed his own order to enforce the subpoenas.

The subpoena issued to American Express demanded the corporate card records of two ABC News producers for the month of January 1994. However, the company mistakenly released transactional records of the producers’ past seven years, according to the Wall Street Journal. The records of at least six other journalists with no connection to the libel case also were released, the Journal reported, because American Express released additional corporate card records of not only ABC but of the Wall Street Journal, where one of the ABC producers had worked in the mid-1980s.

American Express spokesman Michael O’Neil told the Associated Press the mistake was “an isolated incident, but [we] are conducting a policy review to make sure it won’t happen again and make adjustments in policy that are needed.”

Philip Morris is seeking the journalists’ records in an effort to discover the identity of a confidential source identified only as “Deep Cough” in a report on ABC’s “Day One” program.

Immediately after approving the subpoenas, Judge Markow stayed his order requiring American Express, telephone companies, airlines and rental car companies to release certain transactional records of the ABC reporters. After American Express released the records before learning of the stay, Markow issued an order barring Philip Morris from acting on the information it received from American Express. Philip Morris returned the extraneous records to American Express three weeks after they received them.

Investigative Reporters and Editors has called on its members and all journalists to consider returning their corporate and personal American Express cards to protest the company’s actions. (Philip Morris Companies v. American Broadcasting Companies; Media Counsel: William G. Broaddus, Richmond)