An ACLU spokesman said forcing Jana Winter, a Fox News reporter facing possible jail time for not revealing a source she used in a story about the alleged Aurora, Colo., shooter, would be "improper," but said the organization would not get involved unless she were actually jailed.
Subpoenaing the press should be "an absolute last resort because of the chilling effect," said Ben Wizner, director of ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
Conservatives have complained that the mainstream media and free speech groups have ignored the plight of a reporter for the conservative network, whom a Colorado judge is pressing to reveal her sources on a story that disclosed detailes of the investigation into shooter James Holmes. When initially contacted, Wizner said he hadn't been following the story, which received no media coverage from cable news channels other than Fox News until Monday, when it was mentioned on MSNBC's Morning Joe and CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper. After looking into the story more, however, Wizner said "you could expect a strong response" from the ACLU if Winter were jailed, although he said he would be "surprised" if she was.
Winter published a story on FoxNews.com July 25 about how the alleged Aurora, Colo., shooter sent to a notebook to a University of Colorado psychologist that was "full of details about how he was going to kill people," according to the story. Her source violated a protective order against disseminating information that could have "a substantial likelihood of prejudicing a criminal proceeding," according to court documents.
"To compel this reporter to reveal her source would be improper," Wizner said. "Even if this reporter's source committed misconduct in speaking to the reporter, compelling her to testify is no solution."
Wizner said the best way for Winter and other reporters to be protected from being jailed for refusing to reveal their sources is raising awareness of the issue, saying it was "the way everyone's rights get accommodated."
The ACLU Colorado office referred media requests to the national office, saying the Colorado office wasn't familiar with this particular "area of law."
"It's just not an area of law we have much expertise with," said John Krieger, an ACLU Colorado spokesman, adding, "There hasn't been a case that mirrors this one," in his state.