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Vol. 44, No. 1 • November 2006 • .pdf version
Sports writers must form shield for Fainaru-Wada, Williams
By STEVE CARP / Las Vegas Review-Journal
I don't know Mark Fainaru-Wada or Lance Williams. But I have a lot of respect for them. And so should you.
They are the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who helped expose BALCO and ultimately, the athletes who cheated. Their book, "Game Of Shadows" documents the murkiest and darkest side of sports.
Their hard work has culminated with a strange payoff – the government wants to throw them in jail. Instead of praising the two reporters who went to great lengths to expose frauds and try to help clean up sports, they are being threatened with prison for not ratting out who provided them with the information used to break the story.
As reporters, we have certain protections afforded us. However, those protections come at the mercy of the very same people who provide us with them. If a judge decides a reporter must give up his sources, then any protection one has goes out the window.
Chances are few of us will have the opportunity to break a BALCO-type story or that we'd find ourselves in front of a grand jury. But every one of us relies on sources for us to do our jobs, and that's why we have to support Fainaru-Wada and Williams. They are doing what any one of us would do, except their sources are being targeted by the feds whereas most of ours usually don't go beyond some athletic department or some juiced-in booster.
But it doesn't minimize the fact that without sources to tell us what really goes on, the truth won't be revealed. Ultimately, the public doesn't get the real story.
As reporters, it's our job to inform our readers. People pay good money to support college basketball, and if we're suppressing information because there's a fear of killing the messenger, then we're not doing our jobs.
Each of us has been in that situation. A kid gets suspended because he flunked a drug test, and we know it. Of course, we can't prove it, because we'd be violating the kid's rights to privacy under the "Buckley Amendment," so we accept the school's terse two-paragraph statement that a player has been suspended "for conduct detrimental to the basketball program," and that's what we go with. We don't get hauled in front of a judge, and it's the safe way out.
Fainaru-Wada and Williams walked the tightrope without the safety net. They got the proof and they went with it, safe in the fact that their sources were accurate and reliable.
Now, they face 18 months in jail because they aren't going to reveal their sources. As fellow journalists, we need to be their safety net. We need to work to make shield laws for journalists stronger. We need to be able to protect our sources so the truth isn't suppressed.
To do anything less would mean we are willing to accept being a step away from a government-controlled press and you can kiss those sources goodbye.
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