July 13, 2020
Sports Column

Reporters sources need to be protected

This is important. It happens to be from the world of sports, but the ramifications are far more pervasive.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams are the authors of “Game of Shadows,” the book that linked Barry Bonds, and others, with steroid use.

They are now subject to going to jail because it is alleged they received secret grand jury testimony from a source they refuse to divulge.

As noted in Rick Reilly’s Oct. 30 Sports Illustrated column, “No, they uncovered information that had been part of grand jury testimony, but it was then released…,” and the gag order the writers supposedly violated didn’t come until 11 days later.

Nevertheless, the attempt to jail them goes on. This is about protecting freedom of the press and the right of reporters to gather information from sources who do not want to be named for any multitude of reasons, including retaliation of any and all kinds.

President Bush met the writers at a reception in April, as reported in the Reilly column, and told them, “You’ve done a service.”

Now the Attorney General is subpoenaing them for their source and the White House has gone quiet. Talk about retaliation.

Sen. Arlen Specter is trying to get a bill passed to protect reporters from having to reveal sources, a bill that would include judicial review to ensure the public’s right to know outweighs the need to reveal the source.

The White House, which was so happy to glad hand the writers at the reception, opposes the bill.

Those in sports who have used steroids have for the most part blatantly lied, or at least refused to tell the truth, when confronted with evidence of use.

Sports from the high school level up are tainted with such use, and anyone who thinks it isn’t still rampant has a cramp in their brain muscle.

It is the intimidation that comes from unscrupulous coaches, administrators, leagues, and athletes who have millions to lose and who hire high-priced lawyers to propagate their lies that keeps the steroid issue from being dealt with head on.

As a former prosecutor, we used to tell juries in some cases where we had to use crooks as witnesses, “We don’t get to choose our witnesses and crooks don’t usually deal with good people. Those who know may be disgusting, but they know.”

The same is true for reporters who are digging for the truth in any ugly mess, which includes steroid use. The need for the public to get the information far outweighs the need to name the source.

This case involving Fainaru-Wada and Williams is on appeal. We need to speak out.

Write or call your Congressional representatives and the White House and urge support of the Specter bill and the dropping of the subpoena this case. Our ability to know the truth is in the balance.

In one of the most secretive administrations in the history of the country, the chilling effect of the administration’s refusal to support the gathering of the truth is one more power grab we need to refute.

If you agree, but hesitate to act, is it because you fear some retaliation from our right-wing rulers? If so, you better run to the phone.

Old Town native Gary Thorne is an ESPN and ABC sportscaster.

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