In Defense Of Fox News' Jana Winter

Blog ››› ››› ARI RABIN-HAVT

Jana WinterFox News' Jana Winter was granted a delay yesterday in a court hearing that will determine whether she will go to jail for doing her job as a reporter, a story  that has been largely ignored in the media.

In July 2012, while reporting on the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting, Winter broke the story that alleged shooter James Holmes "mailed a notebook 'full of details about how he was going to kill people' to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack, and the parcel may have sat unopened in a mailroom for up to a week before its discovery [in July of 2012]." Her reporting was based on statements from "a law enforcement source."

Because this leak violated a judge's gag order issued in the case, Holmes' defense team is now demanding she reveal her sources. Judge Carlos Samour noted in yesterday's opinion that there exists "the real possibility that Winter may face indefinite jail time in this case as a remedial sanction for her refusal to disclose her confidential sources."

A decision like this, while local in scope, has the potential to stifle necessary and real reporting on the criminal justice system. As National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane noted:

[A]ttempting to get that information by subpoenaing reporters in order to learn their anonymous sources goes too far. It jeopardizes a value of greater significance. If anonymous sources believe their identities can be dredged up in court, they will be less likely to disclose to the press information of vital public importance. That's not a risk worth increasing.

If Jana Winter goes to prison, this would be a case of criminalizing journalism. Every journalist who picks up a note pad and files a crime report bears the same risk.

Sadly, a Nexis search for "Jana Winter" reveals only a handful of TV segments on CNN and Fox News and less than 100 newspaper stories. With this level of threat to First Amendment rights, Jana Winter should be a household name.

Regardless of one's feelings about Winter's employer, it is incumbent upon all of us who value a free press to speak up on her behalf. 

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