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Journalist alleges magazine won't support his refusal to testify

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         NEW YORK         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jul 20, 2000    

Journalist alleges magazine won’t support his refusal to testify

  • A Forbes reporter quit because he claims magazine won’t support his decision not to testify before a grand jury.

Forbes magazine reporter Adam Penenberg left his job on July 19 because, he says, the magazine is not supporting his refusal to testify before a federal grand jury.

Forbes, through its attorney Tennyson Schad, has denied Penenberg’s claims.

Federal prosecutors want Penenberg to testify about an article he wrote for Forbes in November 1998, for which he interviewed two hackers, known only as “Slut Puppy” and “Master Pimp,” who had broken into computers hosting The New York Times’ web site on September 13, 1998. The Times site was shut down for nine hours as a result of the attack, for which a group calling themselves Hacking for Girlies took credit. Penenbreg reported that Slut Puppy and Master Pimp were the leaders of the attack.

The Department of Justice is trying to prosecute members of Hacking for Girlies, and, according to Penenberg, has been “busting my sources, raiding my sources who they know I’ve talked to, threatening them with my article.” Because the hack is a year and a half old, the trail of Slut Puppy and Master Pimp “has gone cold,” Penenberg said. He said he believes the cold trail is the reason behind the Department’s sudden interested in subpoenaing him.

“They (the Justice Department) obviously wanted to interview Penenberg. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the Justice Department wanted to ask,” explained Forbes’ attorney Schad.

According to Penenberg, the Department of Justice contacted Forbes, “threatening to subpoena me over my Times article.” He said that the Department of Justice offered Forbes a “pre-arranged compromise,” that “it wanted me to confirm the facts of my story on the stand, at both a grand jury proceeding and at trial.” Penenberg said that Schad “recommended I accept this offer.” Penenberg refused to testify about any aspect of his article, explaining that to do so would be “a gross breach of journalism ethics. I explained it would ruin my credibility, since I’d never get another scoop if I cooperated with DOJ.”

Schad, in reiterating a denial of Penenberg’s claims that Forbes did not support his refusal to testify, said that Forbes has never suggested that a reporter comply with a subpoena, pressured a reporter to comply, or “accommodated a subpoenaing party. Ten or 20 times over the years we’ve made motions to quash or refused to comply,” with subpoenas of reporters, “forcing the Court to issue an order to compel [testimony]. . . . Our policy is, we don’t submit to voluntarily testifying.”

(Forbes’ counsel: Tennyson Schad, New York; Penenberg’s counsel: James Rehnquist, Boston) JM

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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