From the Press Box to the Witness Stand
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.