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A look at the last nine US reporters who faced the possibility of jail time

Each protected sources while under threat of imprisonment
July 1, 2014

Do journalists have a right to protect their sources? The issue is back in the news with the Supreme Court’s refusal in May to hear New York Times reporter James Risen’s appeal. Risen was subpoenaed in 2011 by federal prosecutors who wanted him to name the CIA agent who was a key source for his book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Risen’s fate is unclear; no national law shields reporters from prosecution for refusing to give up information. But government threats to reporters are more common than prosecution. Here’s a look at the last nine US reporters who faced the possibility of jail time.


Joe Hosey, who works for the Joliet (Illinois) Patch, still faces the threat of jail time for refusing to reveal his source for information from classified police reports that he published last year.


New York’s shield law saved Fox News’ Jana Winter from having to either divulge her source in the murder trial of the man charged in the 2012 movie theater massacre outside Denver, or go to jail.

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San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams escaped incarceration in 2007 for protecting the source who helped them expose a steroid scandal in major league sports.


In 2006, freelance journalist Joshua Wolf served more than seven months in jail—said to be the longest sentence for any US journalist—for refusing to hand over a video he made of a G-8 protest that prosecutors believed contained information about a crime.


New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed in 2005 for refusing to divulge the source who disclosed the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. She spent three months in jail before cutting a deal with prosecutors.


Time magazine’s Matt Cooper avoided a similar fate when his source for the same story released him from his promise of confidentiality, and Cooper testified before the grand jury.


In 2004, Jim Taricani, a TV reporter in Providence, RI, was sentenced to six months of home confinement after refusing to name the source who gave him an FBI video showing a city official taking a bribe.


In 2001, Vanessa Leggett, an aspiring true-crime writer, became a cause célèbre when she spent 168 days in jail for refusing to give a grand jury her notes for a book she was researching about a murder in Texas.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: The New York Times, Janet Hosey, FOX, Penguin Group, Joshua Wolf, FOX, Newsweek, WJAR, AP Images.


The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.