Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


From the Press Box to the Witness Stand

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum held a program on Wednesday evening titled "From the Press Box to the Witness Stand: Sports Journalism and the First Amendment." A distinguished panel represented both sides of the issue, pitting former US Attorney Anton Valukus against Sun Times sports columnist Rick Telander, with Lester Munson, a Sport Illustrated editor, serving as moderator.

The panel focused specifically on the steroids scandal that has enveloped the sporting world, and baseball specifically, for the last several years. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, were subpoenaed in a federal investigation surrounding a grand jury leak related to the prosecution of the Bay Area Laboratory Company (BALCO). They used portions of this leak to write their expose of the steroids controversy in Game of Shadows, and refused to divulge the source of their information. As a result, they were threatened with jail time and avoided the slammer only because their source ultimately confessed.

Telander took a passionate stand on the side of his brethren, planning to set camp outside their jail cell for the sake of the integrity of his profession. By no means an ideologue or a politico, Telander became a First Amendment activist because this case struck so close to home.

Valukus, on the other hand, is more concerned with the integrity of the grand jury process. The leaker in this case was the defendant's lawyer, and the reporters refused to divulge this information, impeding the investigation and prosecution of those guilty of producing and marketing illegal steroids.

Munson, an attorney by training, but a journalist in his current life, followed this story closely and was scooped by the SFC journalists. He sided with Telander, claiming the wave of prosecutions and subpoena-issuing to journalists has had nothing less than a chilling effect. Journalists routinely burn their notes, delete their emails, and refuse to share sources even with their editors in response to the tense climate for modern reporters.

As an observer, I saw the merits of both sides presented, recognizing that this case is by no means a slam dunk one way or the other. Telander recognized this conundrum, but argued that we must err on the side of a free press when placed against the engine of government. We are left to examine the current landscape outside of steroids and baseball, and Gene Policinski does an excellent job of placing the BALCO case in context.

One cannot ignore the current clash between the Dept. of Justice and members of the press, from Judith Miller through Josh Wolfe. The latter, a San Francisco blogger, was just freed from jail after striking a deal with prosecutors. His call for a federal shield law echoes that of Telander and others, and the corpses on the field of battle may give Congress the munition it needs to further fortify the Fourth Estate.


Post a Comment

<< Home


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

Powered by Blogger