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Reporters Committee asks for donations to help Minnesota reporter

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is asking for donations for a fund established by a group of…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is asking for donations for a fund established by a group of Minnesota journalists to help pay court-imposed fines for a Minnesota reporter who has refused to obey a court order to reveal his confidential sources.

Wally Wakefield will be fined $200 a day beginning today until July 19, the day Weinberger’s defamation trial is scheduled to begin. The fines could reach up to $20,000.

The group effort is being led by Steve Brandt and Randy Furst of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. An executive board is being formed, which will include Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish, Furst said, adding that the group is looking for whatever donors can give. A handful of reporters are donating a day’s pay to help Wakefield, he said.

Wakefield lost his court battle to gain protection under Minnesota’s reporter’s privilege statute last fall, when the Minnesota Supreme Court held that Wakefield was not protected under the law because his source information was relevant to a libel case.

A 73-year-old retired elementary school teacher, Wakefield refused to reveal confidential sources quoted in an article about the firing of a local football coach for the Maplewood Review. The article was published in January 1997 after Tartan High School fired its football coach, Richard Weinberger, as a result of accusations of misconduct and maltreatment of the team’s players.

Wakefield’s article contained several statements from unnamed school officials who said Weinberger intimidated Tartan football players. Weinberger sued the school district and four school officials for defamation, but he did not sue Wakefield or the newspaper. Instead, Weinberger subpoenaed Wakefield to learn the identities of the confidential sources.

After the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, Wakefield acknowledged the effect the ruling will have on his peers: “This will have tremendous ramifications for all media,” he said. “All along I thought I was correct about this and I still think I am,” he added.

An account has been opened at the Star Tribune Credit Union. Checks may be made payable to:

The Wally Wakefield Defense Fund
P.O. Box 8115
Minneapolis, MN 55408