Friday I wrote about Dodge City Daily Globe reporter Claire O’Brien. She was being held in contempt and fined a $1,000 a day for not giving up a confidential source in a story she wrote about a murder suspect.
I supported her stance to withhold the name because going against her word of promising anonymity would be unethical and make it difficult for her to continue to do her job as a journalist because future sources would worry about her trust.
I condemed the Dodge City court system and Ford County Attorney Terry Malone for forcing this issue, but they have won.
“A confidential source whose identity prosecutors had sought revealed himself to authorities Thursday after O’Brien was cited for contempt, Malone said. The source provided the information authorities sought and released O’Brien from her promise of confidentiality,” the report said.
O’Brien told the AP that the source wanted her to give up the fight and come clean.
“He was moved by his own moral convictions — the only thing that could have evoked those was me demonstrating my moral convictions to that extent when he saw I was willing to pay the whole price,” O’Brien told the AP.
Though I’m not happy that O’Brien gave up the source, I am pleased that she didn’t just do it to turn the heat off. The source supported this, which should prevent future sources from being skeptical of O’Brien. She proved she was trustworthy, which is why the source gave her the go-ahead to reveal who the source was.
This whole ordeal does offer a glimmer of hope for Kansas to get a Shield Law instated.
The report said, “Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said his group has been approached by legislators who want to help. He said KPA will be working with them in the coming weeks to make sure Kansas joins the 35 other states with a shield law to protect reporters . . . ‘This episode has awakened members of the Kansas Legislature to the sad fact that reporters have no protection under state law,’ Anstaett said in a phone interview. ‘Who is going to go out on a limb as a reporter if the courts and prosecutors are just going to be standing there with a chain saw to destroy the very tools a reporter uses to report the news’ . . . If reporters don’t have the ability to talk to people anonymously, valuable investigative reporting will go away, he said.”
The one thing several people I have discussed this situation with have brought up is why O’Brien even used the anonymous source. Was it pertinent to the story?
I see what they are getting at. Anonymous sources hurt the credibility of any story, but they are still important for investigative journalism. Without them many important stories would never be reported.
But what about this story? Was the anonymous source needed?
Maybe. Maybe not. The story seems like it would have been OK without it, but using the source did make the story bring up a bigger issue that the alleged murder case seems to be dealing with.
Would I have used that source? Probably not. I might have talked to the source and pursued that story separately and got people on the record to talk about it. However, if I had used that source in the story, I would have done just what O’Brien did.
I would have gone to jail before going against my ethics and my word to protect the identity of the source.