Fox News reporter Jana Winter may serve six months in jail for refusing to disclose to a court two anonymous sources from a story she broke on July 25, 2012, related to alleged Aurora, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes.
Mackenzie Weinger of Politico has the details and notes that, at least thus far, it seems only Fox News has shown concern over a journalist being squeezed to break the confidence of her sources (emphases mine):
Winter wrote a story in July 2012 about a notebook that Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes sent his University of Colorado psychiatrist. Winter’s story cited unnamed law enforcement sources and quoted one source as saying the notebook was “full of details about how he was going to kill people.” In January, the judge then currently on the Aurora case gave the okay for Holmes’s lawyers to subpoena Winter. On April 1, the new judge in the case, Carlos Samour Jr., heard arguments from both Holmes’ defense attorney and Winter’s attorney.
FoxNews.com reported that “Samour himself stated that the subpoena to Winter presented her with a ‘Hobson’s Choice.”’
“If forced to testify, Winter would either reveal her confidential sources in the nation's highest profile trial – perhaps destroying her career as an investigative reporter – or spend up to six months in jail,” the Fox News report stated.
On Wednesday, Samour will decide if Winter must go on the witness stand — and her attorney has said that Winter will not answer questions about the identity of her sources.
FoxNews.com, BuzzFeed and The Daily Caller have all reported in recent days about the media coverage that Winter’s case has received. The Daily Caller noted that The New York Times has still not reported on Winter’s case and pulled a Tweet from a CNN reporter based in Denver, Jim Spellman, who wrote, "Observation: If @janawinter ,who may go to jail to protect sources, worked for @nytimes instead of @FoxNews the case would be huge." BuzzFeed, meanwhile, found that the case has only been substantially covered on TV by Fox News.
Fox News contributor and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to give up her source in the Valerie Plame scandal, told BuzzFeed that if Winter “worked for mainstream newspapers or CNN, I think the case would have been covered. There's a certain reluctance because it's Fox News."
Sara Morrison of the Columbia Journalism Review noted today why Winter's attorney believes the criteria to trigger the exemption to Colorado's journalist shield law hasn't been met:
Colorado has a shield law that protects reporters from revealing their sources, but there are workarounds. If Holmes’s attorneys can prove that: the information is “directly relevant” to the case; all other means of obtaining the information have been exhausted; and the need for the information is more important than the First Amendment’s freedom of the press protections, the judge will force her to testify. In its rather glowing account of Winter’s case, FoxNews.com said she would refuse to testify if came to that.
Winter’s lawyer, Dori Ann Hanswirth, insists that the Colorado shield law has not been satisfied. The defense team, she says, hasn’t “really articulated exactly what Jana’s knowledge is relevant to.” Prosecutors in the Holmes case already dropped the request to see the notebook, so unmasking Winter’s sources seems to be more important to proving that the gag order was violated (which, the former judge presiding over the case contended, may have compromised Holmes’s right to a fair trial) than it does Holmes’s guilt or innocence.
Should Holmes decide to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, the notebook, which is currently sealed and in the court’s possession, could be admitted into evidence, but, again, it’s not clear how knowing who told Winter about its existence would make a difference. More likely, the defense would use any proof that law enforcement officials acted improperly as grounds for appeal should Holmes be convicted. As Brady said in the April 1 hearing where prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty: “They are trying to execute our client, and we will do what we need to do to save his life.”