Journalists jailed or fined for refusing to identify confidential sources, as of 2019
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press monitors subpoenas and other legal threats targeting journalists, and helps those facing government attempts to force them to testify about or disclose their sources and newsgathering information. This list is a running tally of known instances in which journalists have been jailed, fined or both for refusing to comply with such requests as of 2019. This list, however, may be incomplete, as these cases are difficult to monitor since many do not receive press attention. To report an instance not included here, please contact our Legal Defense Hotline.
The Reporters Committee also maintains a comprehensive list of federal cases throughout American history where the government has launched a formal inquiry to identify the source of leaked government information or where it has sought to prosecute journalistic sources for those leaks. Some of those cases overlap with this list. View the comprehensive list of federal cases.
- 2006, Josh Wolf, San Francisco, California — Wolf was a freelance video blogger initially jailed for a month when he refused to turn over a videotape that federal officials said contained footage of protesters damaging a police car. Wolf was later released on bail, but an appeals court panel confirmed the contempt order against him, and Wolf returned to jail. He was finally released on April 3, 2007. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Wolf, arguing that he was a “freelance journalist” under the California Shield Law.
- 2006, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, San Francisco, California — Two journalists for the San Francisco Chronicle were sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for refusing to reveal the source of a leaked grand jury testimony regarding the use of steroids by baseball players. The contempt charges were dropped after attorney Troy Ellerman pleaded guilty to leaking the testimony.
- 2005, Judith Miller, Washington, D.C. — A journalist for the New York Times was jailed for refusing to testify against her sources in an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s name by White House officials. She spent 85 days in jail and was released when she agreed to provide limited testimony to a grand jury regarding conversations with vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby without revealing her other sources. The Reporters Committee released a statement in support of Miller, affirming that the “work of journalists must be independent and free from government control if they are to effectively serve as government watchdogs.”
- 2001, Vanessa Leggett, Houston, Texas — An author researching a “true crime” book was jailed for 168 days by a federal judge for refusing to disclose her research and the identities of her sources to a federal grand jury investigating a murder. Leggett was freed only after the term of the grand jury expired. A subsequent grand jury indicted the key suspect in the murder without any need for her testimony. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Leggett and later sent a letter urging then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to acknowledge that Leggett was a journalist who qualified for the protections afforded by the Justice Department’s news media subpoena guidelines.
- 2000, Timothy Crews, Red Bluff, California — The Sacramento Valley Mirror editor and publisher served a five-day sentence for refusing to reveal his confidential sources in a story involving the sale of an allegedly stolen firearm by a state patrol officer. The Reporters Committee filed a letter in support of Crews’s petition before the California Supreme Court.
- 1998, John Rezendes-Herrick, Ontario, California — A retired journalist was given a five-day jail sentence for refusing to reveal his sources for a story about a landfill plan backed by Waste Management Inc., a company indicted for stock fraud, wiretapping and illegal use of trade secrets. That order, however, was stayed pending appeal. The Reporters Committee, along with other media organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Rezendes-Herrick.
- 1996, Bruce Anderson, Ukiah, California — An editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser was found in civil contempt and jailed for a total of 13 days for refusing to turn over the original letter to the editor that he received from a prisoner. After a week of incarceration, Anderson tried to turn over the letter, but the judge refused to believe it was the original because it was typed and its author did not have access to a typewriter in jail. After another week, the judge finally accepted that the typewritten letter was the original.
- 1994, Lisa Abraham, Warren, Ohio — A journalist was jailed for 22 days for refusing to testify before a state grand jury about a jailhouse interview. She was released when the grand jury finished its term.
- 1991, Sid Gaulden, Schuyler Kropf, Cindi Scoppe, and Andrew Shain, Columbia, South Carolina — Four journalists were jailed for eight hours and then released pending appeal, which they lost, but the trial was already over. Prosecutors sought their unpublished conversations with a state senator on trial for corruption.
- 1990, Libby Averyt, Corpus Christi, Texas — A journalist was subpoenaed for information about a jailhouse interview. She was jailed over a weekend and released when a judge was convinced she would never turn over the unpublished information sought.
- 1990, Brian Karem, San Antonio, Texas — A television journalist was subpoenaed by both the defense and prosecution and refused to reveal the names of the individuals who arranged a jailhouse interview. He was jailed for 13 days and was released when the sources came forward.
- 1990, Tim Roche, Stuart, Florida — A journalist was subpoenaed to reveal his source for a leaked court order that was supposed to have been sealed. He was jailed briefly and released pending appeal. He was later sentenced to 30 days for criminal contempt and served 18 days in 1993 before being released.
- 1986, Michael J. Burns, Louisiana — A journalist for The Alexandria (La.) Daily Town Talk refused to name the source who provided him a copy of a confession in a murder-for-hire case. He was jailed for one day before a state appellate court stayed the order.
- 1986, Brad Stone, Detroit, Michigan — A television journalist refused to reveal the identities of gang members he interviewed several weeks prior to the killing of a police officer. Stone was jailed for one day and released pending appeal. An appeals court overturned his conviction.
- 1984, Richard Hargraves, Belleville, Illinois — A newspaper reporter was jailed over a weekend in connection with a libel case. He was released when his source came forward.
- 1981, Ellen Marks, Idaho — A journalist was cited for contempt of court for refusing to reveal the hiding place of a source involved in a child custody dispute. Marks was initially jailed but was then released on the same day and was issued a $500 per day fine. The Idaho Statesman ended up paying $37,500 in fines on her behalf.
- 1979, Wayne Harrison, Longview, Texas — The news director at radio station KULE was jailed for three hours for refusing to reveal his sources in reporting on a murder case, and was released after the judge decided he no longer needed to know the names of the sources.
- 1972, Peter Bridge, New Jersey — A journalist for the Newark Evening News was jailed for 21 days after being charged with contempt for refusing to answer questions regarding the sources he used for a story about a bribery case.
- 1972, William Farr, Los Angeles, California — A journalist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner was jailed for 46 days for refusing to reveal his sources for a story about the Charles Manson murder trial.
- 1972, Edwin Goodman, New York, New York — The general manager of radio station WBAI was sentenced to 30 days in jail for refusing to turn over tapes of a broadcast of an October 1970 riot at the Manhattan House of Detention for Men.
- 1970, Mark Knops, Wisconsin — Knops served four and a half months of a six-month sentence for refusing to answer questions from a grand jury regarding a story he published about a bombing at the University of Wisconsin.
- 1958, Marie Torre, New York — A journalist for the New York Herald Tribune served 10 days in jail for refusing to reveal the identity of her source for a column featuring quotes from an unnamed CBS executive that actress Judy Garland alleged were defamatory.
- 1950, Reubin Clein, Miami, Florida — An editor for Miami Life magazine was sentenced to 30 days in jail for refusing to reveal the source of a leak regarding a city councilman accused of bribery.
- 2008, Toni Locy, Washington, D.C. — A federal judge held Locy, a USA Today reporter, in contempt of court for refusing to reveal confidential sources for her reporting on the government’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. She was ordered to pay fines of $500 a day for seven days, $1,000 a day for another seven days, and $5,000 a day for seven days if she refused to name her sources. The Reporters Committee joined 32 media organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Locy’s appeal of the contempt order, and called on Congress to pass the shield bills being considered by Congress at that time. The court eventually vacated the contempt citation.
- 2004, ABC News, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post — Wen Ho Lee, who sued the U.S. Department of Energy, the DOJ and the FBI in 2000 under the Privacy Act, subpoenaed six reporters who wrote about the investigation for information on their confidential sources. A federal judge found five of the six reporters in contempt of court and fined them $500 per day until they complied. ABC News, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post agreed to voluntarily contribute $750,000 to the total government settlement with Lee.
- 1996, Minnesota Daily, Minneapolis, Minnesota — The University of Minnesota’s newspaper was fined $500 ($240 per day for two days) for refusing to turn over photos.
- 1992, Susan Smallheer, Vermont — Susan Smallheer and the Rutland Herald were fined $2,000 per day, plus $4,000 in the government’s legal fees, for seeking an interview with a prison escapee. The state’s high court ruled that the prospective contempt fines and attorney fees were improper.
- 1987, Bill Hilliard, Oregon — Oregonian editor Bill Hilliard was fined $300 for refusing to turn over unpublished photos of an anti-nuclear rally. The court of appeals reversed and voided the fine, finding the photos unnecessary.
- 1983, James Wright, Idaho — A journalist for the Daily Idahonian was fined $500 for refusing to reveal a confidential source in a criminal trial. Later, a judge imposed a $500 per day fine, which was stayed pending an appeal. In May of 1985, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Idaho Constitution gives a qualified privilege to journalists.
- 1982, Nick Lamberto, Iowa — A journalist for the Des Moines Register was fined $500 for refusing to turn over notes in a civil damage lawsuit.
- 1982, Robin Traywick, Richmond, Virginia — A journalist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch was fined $100 per day for refusing to reveal her confidential sources to a grand jury. She accumulated $1,400 in fines and eventually testified, but never revealed any of her sources.
- 1981, Mark McKinnon, Texas — An editor of The Daily Texan, the newspaper for the University of Texas at Austin, was fined $100 for refusing to turn over unpublished photos of a demonstration.
- 1980, CBS — CBS was fined $1 per day for refusing to turn over notes and tapes to a criminal defendant who had been the subject of a “60 Minutes” report. The fine was upheld by an appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court let it stand. (This is one of the “Cuthbertson” cases.)
- 1979, David Chandler, Norfolk, Virginia — A journalist for the Norfolk Ledger-Star was fined $100 per day for refusing to disclose his sources to a grand jury. The day before the argument in state Supreme Court, a trial judge dropped the contempt order.
- 1979, Bob Hiles, Mansfield, Ohio — A journalist for the Ohio News Journal was fined $250 per day for refusing to disclose his source of information about grand jury proceedings. The fine was suspended after four days, and the contempt charge was reversed by an appeals court.
- 1979, KHON-TV and Scott Shirai, Honolulu, Hawaii — A Honolulu television station and one of its journalists were fined $5,000 per day and $100 per day respectively after refusing to identify sources in a libel case. The request was made by the plaintiff, and it is unknown whether the court imposed it.
- 1979, Pamela O’Shaughnessy, Brooklyn, New York — A journalist for Brooklyn’s Kings Courier was fined $250 for refusing to identify an undercover source during a drug trial. A stay was granted pending appeal, and the appellate division reversed the fine.
- 1975, Mary Jo Tierney, Cocoa, Florida — A journalist for Cocoa Today was fined $500 for refusing to testify before a grand jury. She was not jailed because the grand jury had expired, but the civil contempt charge was upheld.
- 1971, Larry Dickinson and Gibbs Adams, Louisiana — Dickinson, a journalist for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, and Adams, a journalist for the State-Times, were convicted of contempt of court and fined $300 each for publishing stories about a trial, going against a judge’s orders.
- 1970, Arthur Kunkin and Robert Applebaum, California — Kunkin, editor and publisher for the Los Angeles Free Press, and Applebaum, one of the newspaper’s journalists, were found guilty of illegally obtaining a roster of state narcotics agents. Kunkin was fined $1,000 and Applebaum was fined $500.
- 1968, Annette Buchanan, Oregon — The managing editor for the Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon was fined after publishing a story about the use of marijuana on campus and refusing to reveal the identities of the students she saw smoking.
Journalists jailed and fined
- 2004, Jim Taricani, Providence, Rhode Island — A WJAR television reporter obtained and aired in February 2001 a portion of a videotape showing a Providence city official accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The tape was sealed evidence in an FBI investigation into corruption by Providence officials, including former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. Taricani was subpoenaed, but refused to reveal his source and was found in civil contempt of court. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, NBC (WJAR’s network) paid $85,000 in fines. Taricani was found in criminal contempt of court and was sentenced to six months of home confinement. He was granted early release after being confined for four months. The Reporters Committee released a statement in support of Taricani, asserting that “imposing a criminal sentence on a reporter for aggressively pursuing a story about public corruption is an affront to the First Amendment protections that allow the news media to act as a watchdog on those who wield power.”
- 1996, David Kidwell, Palm Beach County, Florida — A journalist for the Miami Herald was found in criminal contempt and sentenced to 70 days for refusing to testify about a jailhouse interview. Kidwell was fined $500 and served 14 days before being released after filing an emergency federal habeas corpus petition. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Kidwell, arguing that Florida courts recognize a reporter’s privilege under the First Amendment.
- 1991, Felix Sanchez and James Campbell, Houston, Texas — Two journalists were locked in a judge’s chambers for several hours after they refused to stand in the back of the courtroom and identify possible eyewitnesses to a crime, but successfully appealed through a habeas corpus petition. Each journalist was also fined $500, but a federal district judge reversed the fine.
- 1987, Roxana Kopetman, Los Angeles, California — A journalist for the Los Angeles Times was jailed for six hours for resisting a subpoena seeking eyewitness testimony. She appealed, and the court ruled against her, but the criminal case was over. She was also ordered to pay a fine of $100 per day with a $1,000 maximum.
- 1985, Chris Van Ness, California — A freelance writer was subpoenaed in connection with John Belushi’s murder. He was fined $1,000 and jailed for several hours after refusing to release a tape of his conversation with Cathy Smith about Belushi’s death. After he turned over the tape, he was released.
- 1982, Barry Smith and Dave Tragethon, Colorado — Smith, a journalist for the Durango Herald, and Tragethon, a journalist for KIUP-KRSJ radio, served two days in jail and paid a fine of $500 for refusing to answer questions about their sources in a criminal trial. The sentence was stayed pending appeal, but the appellate court refused to lift the criminal contempt charges. The civil contempt charges were dismissed.
- 1978, Myron Farber, New York, New York — A journalist for the New York Times served 40 days of a six-month sentence for refusing to turn over his notes about a case of a doctor who was charged with murdering five of his patients. Farber was fined $1,000, and the Times was ordered to pay $100,000 in contempt fines and $5,000 for every day Farber was in jail. The Times eventually paid $185,000 in civil contempt fines, and the contempt convictions stood until New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne pardoned Farber and ordered the return of $286,000 the Times.
To report an instance not included here, please contact the Reporters Committee’s Legal Defense Hotline.