Todd Vogts

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Anonymous source never told reporter true name

Recently Dodge City Daily Globe reporter Claire O’Brien revealed the name of a confidential source she used in reporting about murder suspect Samuel Bonilla.

Prior to giving up the anonymous source, O’Brien was being held in contempt and being charged $1,000 per day until she came clean. I felt this was an outrage. O’Brien was standing up for her personal ethics and honoring the agreement she made.

She revealed the source only after the source gave her permission to, which should prevent O’Brien from facing future obstructions to doing her job because she didn’t betray anyone’s trust. She was relieved of her obligations to keep the name a secret by the source itself.

One question that remains for me, though, is was this pursuit of the confidential source warranted? My initial reaction is that it wasn’t. Sure, maybe the story didn’t really need the anonymous source in the first place, but the fact remains it was used and O’Brien did the right thing to keep her word.

Here’s the kicker for me, though: the source didn’t even tell O’Brien his real name.

What good was strong-arming O’Brien? She could have revealed nothing of substance. She still doesn’t know his first name, and the authorities wouldn’t either if he hadn’t come forward and turned himself in.

“The source coming forward at the eleventh hour was astonishing,” O’Brien said in a Globe report. “He saved me. I was prepared to go to jail to protect his identity.”

What does this teach us? Kansas needs a reporter Shield Law. Period.

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1 Comment

  1. I really appreciate your support. Thanks.
    However, your coverage of my case contains quite a few errors. For example, I never gave in and said anything about my source. I didn’t testify about him – not one word. I said I wouldn’t and I didn’t.
    He came forward after calling the prosecutor and judge and getting a promise of anonymity. His name will never be revealed – it’s not even listed in any part of the case file.
    He spoke privately with the state – I was not present.
    Further, I found out that he had given me a correct first name and a false last name way back in December – and we had a big fight, believe me. I would NEVER have used his information had I been aware that I didn’t have a correct name. Another (very major) source whom I trusted absolutely and who had an impecable history of credibility with me had introduced us and vouched for him.
    However, that does NOT mean that I didn’t know who and where he was. Dodge is a town of only 28,000 and his occupation is an uncommon one that requires state paperwork. His first name and his employer (two blocks away) were more than enough to ID him – that’s why he freaked out for almost six months. All I had to do to get his last name was to stroll one block to the courthouse and ask for some very public information. Five minutes, tops.
    But why freak him out more than he already was? We both knew I could do that, and since I planned to never testify, why make him worry about it?
    I told “my” lawyers and publisher as soon as I discovered the false name, and when I described how easy it would be to ID the source, the lawyers told me there was no problem.
    I probably won’t listen to a lawyer again for a long, long time. James Carlson at the Topeka Capitol Journal amuses himself by making snide comments about the fact that I “didn’t know my source”. If young Mr. Carlson wants to come to Dodge and accompany me as I get that last name in under five minutes, he’s more than welcome – but then, that would spoil the kid’s sanctimonious fun, and he doesn’t have enough backbone to do more than take pot shots as another reporter’s career is destroyed by the fabrications of corporate thugs.

    Any reporter can get tricked at least once. We use professional instinct, not mind reading or truth serum. If a longtime and trusted source is going to lie to a reporter, well, that reporter is going to get fooled. It’s just going to happen from time to time. What’s the alternative? I mean, how many reporters do you know who ask for a photo ID? Every day, hundreds of thousands of reporters all over the world commit the same act of faith when they reach for their notebooks and ask “how do you spell that?”
    Logistically, there’s no other way to cover a big percentage of the stories that run every day.
    Anyway, I’m not sorry that I made the choice I made. I’m just sorry I made it in Kansas.

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