U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald may be something of a media darling, but on one point he and many journalists vehemently disagree: the sanctity of a reporter's sources.
Fitzgerald has aggressively pursued those sources when working his cases, and he just reiterated at the American Bar Association's annual convention in Chicago that journalists must comply with his demands or face jail time.
"I don’t see how reporters can be different from the president of the United States or any other citizen and refuse to comply," Fitzgerald said at an ABA panel, the ABA Journal reports. "Once a court rules, we have to follow that."
Of course, there are exceptions for the president and other citizens -- state secrets, attorney-client privilege or the right not to be forced to testify against a spouse.
Beyond that, the sanctity of sources keeps the so-called Fourth Estate from becoming an arm of law enforcement. If everything in a reporter's notebook is ultimately the property of prosecutors, there is no such thing as an independent press.
"Fitzgerald maintained that the number of subpoenas issued by federal prosecutors to journalists 'is a trifle compared to the confidential information reported per day in the nation’s newspapers," the ABA Journal reports. "[Subpoenas] are a last resort'."
Fellow panelist Abdon Pallasch, a Sun-Times reporter, said: "If [sources] don't confide in reporters . . . how do we get the tip?"
The panel also included U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over thethe Scooter Libby case prosecuted by Fitzgerald - an investigation that resulted in New York Times reporter Judith Miller going to jail.
“I do believe reporters should have some level of protection,” Walton said, according to the National Law Journal. “I don’t think that parties in courts should be able to just willy-nilly extract information from reporters because I think the free flow of information to the American public, frankly, is very important.”
Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.