Newspaper ordered to reveal bombing information sources to Jewell
GEORGIA–A state court in Atlanta in late April ordered a newspaper to reveal the identities of its confidential sources to Richard Jewell, who is suing the newspaper for libel.
Judge John Mather ordered The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to comply with a discovery request from Jewell, the security guard who was initially identified as a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.
Jewell is suing the Journal-Constitution for libel based on articles reporting that, after he was credited with discovering the bomb and saving lives, he approached the news media and sought publicity for his actions. Other Journal-Constitution articles Jewell claimed defamed him reported that his prior record as a law enforcement officer had been erratic and that investigators believed he fit the profile of a lone bomber. Jewell also claimed that his reputation was damaged by editorials written by columnist David Kindred commenting on the sometimes fleeting nature of the label “hero” and drawing parallels between Jewell and convicted murderer Wayne Williams.
In connection with the lawsuit, Jewell demanded identifying information about law enforcement sources who gave information on the bombing investigation to the newspaper on the condition that their identities would be kept confidential.
The court held that the First Amendment does not create a qualified reporter’s privilege protecting journalists from being forced to disclose the identities of confidential sources. The court also held that the state shield law does not protect the Journal- Constitution because the law does not apply in cases where journalists themselves are defendants in a lawsuit.
The court also ordered the newspaper to cover the costs of re- deposing reporters who, based on assertions of a qualified reporter’s privilege, refused to answer Jewell’s questions about their confidential sources.
Jewell also sought to force the newspaper to reveal information about pre-publication review of the articles by the newspaper’s attorney as well as seminars conducted by the attorney to inform staff members about libel issues. The court ordered the newspaper to reveal whether or not pre-publication review was conducted, and disclose any libel concerns identified during any such review, other than talks with its attorney. The court also ordered the newspaper to disclose dates and length of its libel seminars as well as a list of employees who participated, though it postponed a decision about disclosure of the content of the seminars until after the newspaper revealed the other information about them.
The Journal-Constitution asked the court for permission to appeal the decision. The newspaper also filed a motion to dismiss the case in late March. The court has not yet ruled on either the request for appeal or the motion to dismiss. (Jewell v. Cox Enterprises; Media Counsel: Peter Canfield, Atlanta)