A Fox News reporter is facing jail time over her refusal to reveal a source she used in a story, an episode receiving remarkably little attention in the mainstream press — and prompting suggestions on the right that the media and advocates are ignoring Jana Winter’s plight because of hostility to her employer.
Jana Winter, a reporter for FoxNews.com and former New York Post reporter, reported on July 25 on a notebook alleged Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes sent to a University of Colorado psychologist “full of details about how he was going to kill people.”
In Winter’s story, she described the notebook, indicating it included illustrations of a massacre drawn using stick figures. The notebook and other items in a package the alleged shooter sent to the psychologist were “made subject to a protective order,” according to court documents filed in Arapahoe County Courthouse.
The court has subpoenaed Winter to give testimony in the case.
Holmes’ defense attorney indicated the confidential source in Winter’s story violated the court’s order to limit pretrial publicity, and efforts to discover who the source was have been unsuccessful, according to court documents. Colorado’s shield law protects reporters from being jailed for refusing to name sources but allows judges to compel disclosure if the identity of the source cannot be obtained by other means.
She is expected to return to court Wednesday.
The story has received some attention online, but a search for “Jana Winter” on TVEyes indicates the story has only been covered on Fox News, which has begun to focus on it intensely.
“If she worked for mainstream newspapers or CNN, I think the case would have been covered,” said Judith Miller, a Fox News contributor who was jailed for 85 days for refusing to reveal a source she used for a story in The New York Times in 2005. “There’s a certain reluctance because it’s Fox News.”
“When I got into trouble, people were very supportive of me because I was with The New York Times,” Miller said. “I’m surprised and disappointed there hasn’t been more coverage.”
Miller said she talked with Winter and had a meeting with her on Friday.
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Miller said. “She did her job.”
Only one advocacy group appears to have weighed in on Winter’s behalf: In a statement Friday, the National Press Club urged the judge to drop his push.
“Courts have the right to enforce the confidentiality of investigations, and that may in some cases require punishing leakers,” National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane said. “But attempting 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.”
The American Civil Liberties Union didn’t immediately have a statement ready in response to a question about the case Saturday, and other groups didn’t immediately respond to a query about it.
Winter referred a reporter’s questions to Fox News but made her case that Holmes’ lawyers should be blocked from seeking her testimony in an affidavit late last month.
“A source’s wilingness to come forward to the press often depends on my ability to earn the source’s trust and to maintain his or her confidentiality,” she said in the sworn statement, posted by Fox. “Being made to testify as Holmes requests will force me to ‘burn’ not one, but two confidential soruces. My reputation as a journalist will be irreparably tarnished.”
Winter also told the court that she is “fearful for my safety based on numerous threatening internet postings about my work pertaining to the Holmes case.”
“She knows what’s at stake,” Miller said. “She is, in my view, a very brave person.”