According to research by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, freelance book author Vanessa Leggett will become the longest-jailed journalist in U.S. history for refusing to disclose a confidential source, when she serves her 47th day in jail tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 5.
The Reporters Committee will deliver a protest letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft early Wednesday morning on behalf of Leggett, arguing that the Justice Department should acknowledge she is a journalist and apply its own guidelines to the subpoena issued to her. Under the Justice guidelines, the Reporters Committee will argue, the subpoena should not have been approved. Therefore, the subpoena should be withdrawn, which should dissolve the civil contempt charge against Leggett and free her from jail.
A copy of the protest letter will be sent tomorrow to the same distribution list that receives this advisory.
The current record is believed to have been set by a Los Angeles reporter almost 30 years ago. William Farr, then with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, was jailed for 46 days in 1972 for refusing to reveal the source of leaked documents in the Charles Manson trial.
The first time a reporter was jailed for refusing to comply with a subpoena may have been in 1959, when Marie Torre was sued by Judy Garland over an article Torre wrote for the New York Herald Tribune. Garland demanded that the writer reveal her source of information in the article, but she refused. A judge sent her to jail for contempt for 10 days.
There is no indication that the U.S. Department of Justice has ever had a reporter jailed for more than one day, prior to the Leggett case. Almost all other jailings of reporters, including the jailing of Farr, came at the request of county prosecutors.
More background on the Leggett case can be found at https://www.rcfp.org/leggett.html