A federal judge has jailed two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, for refusing to disclose the source of an illegal leak of grand jury testimony related to the Justice Department’s inquisition against BALCO, Barry Bonds, and the oh-so-horrible crime of steroid use in professional baseball. There’s been predictable complaints about the government jailing reporters, including this frightening column by ESPN.com writer Wright Thompson, who equates Fainaru-Wada and Williams to Thomas Paine and Woodward and Bernstein:
These reporters were assigned a story, did it well and, in the process, sparked a national debate that did big things like teach kids about the danger of steroids and small things like help force a sport to clean up its act. In the end, those are the only relevant facts to me. They provided a public service, worked long hours, endured criticism and dead ends, pursuing the truth.
Thompson expressly called for a double standard, saying it was proper for the government to jail another witness in the case, Greg Anderson, a former trainer for Bonds, while allowing reporters to violate grand jury secrecyâ€”and any other constitutional rights deemed inconvenient to the “public service”:
There is a difference between a steroids dealer who is covering for his friend and two hard-working journalists. Look, Anderson might be a very nice man. He certainly is a loyal friend. But he’s hardly an innocent bystander in all of this. He did time for dealing harmful performance-enhancing drugs.
Harmful to who? The clients who voluntarily asked for and received the drugs? It’s curious that in the course of his ode to the First Amendment rights of the Chornicle reporters, Thompson never once stops to ask whether the Constitution protects the right of individuals to control what goes into their own bodies, or whether the federal government has any authority to criminalize cheating in baseball. You see, in Thompson’s world, reporters who claim good intentions are entitled to special protections, while the rest of us have to follow every law to the letter regardless of what the Constitution actually says:
In the end, it seems that the only people with pure motives in this entire saga are Williams and Fainaru-Wada.
The Fainaru brothers are out there on the front lines, telling stories that make a difference. Since the days of Thomas Paine, this country has been built on the foundation of a free press. It’s why that amendment was the first one. There’s a reason the founding fathers — I’ll take Thomas Jefferson over the two government suits in the courtroom on Thursday — didn’t make the First Amendment about protecting secret grand juries.
I guess Thompson never read any other constitutional amendmentsâ€”such as the Fifth and Sixth Amendments provisions regarding due processâ€”and once again, he’s ignored whether there was even a constitutional basis for this prosecution in the first place.
(And incidentally, the reporters’ “pure motives” didn’t prevent them from cashing-in and writing a book based on their illegally leaked information.)
Nor, I gather, does Thompson care about the thousands of victims of the federal government’s crusade against various drugs and substances. He probably thinks nothing of the government using the baseball scandal as a pretext for demanding mandatory drug testing and strip searches in schoolsâ€”the forcible violations of students’ bodies by the government, which most of us would call sexual abuse. He probably thinks it was a “public service” when police raid the wrong houses in search of drug users and kill or maim innocent people. As long as the state is free to kill, rape, and pillage, Thompson will stand and applaud, just so long as you never hold him or any of his “journalism” colleagues accountable for anything they say or do.
If the Chornicle reporters deliberately received their information from government prosecutorsâ€”as is almost certainly the caseâ€”then they were not acting as reporters or patriots in the tradition of Paine or Jefferson. They were silent co-conspirators with the government, agents of a violent police state that thinks nothing of murdering Americans in pursuit of their anti-drug religious fanaticism. Such men are nothing more than filthy traitorsâ€”Americans who conspire and sanction violence against fellow countrymen.
As for Thompson, I’d suggest he’d look at the work of real patriot-journalists like the Cato Institute’s Radley Balkoâ€”yeah, the First Amendment applies to people who work outside the vaunted halls of newspapersâ€”who has worked to expose the State of Mississippi’s crusade to murder Cory Maye in connection with the drug war. He’s trying to make a difference by saving a man’s life, a principle that is foreign to Thompson and his cherished martyrs from the San Francisco Chronicle, whose highest values include the degradation and destruction of life.