Fourth Circuit Endorses WikiLeaks
Well, not really. But that’s the unintended consequence of yesterday’s awful decision in US v. Sterling, in which the Fourth Circuit held that James Risen could not rely on journalist’s privilege to avoid testifying against James Sterling, whom the government believes leaked classified information to Risen. According the court, the government is entitled to Risen’s testimony, because he is the only “eyewitness” (a journalist receiving classified information) to the “crime” (leaking classified information to a journalist):
There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source.
Indeed, he can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury –- the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead.
If a journalist can be forced to testify against a whistleblower in a leak case because he “witnessed” the “crime,” there is only one solution for journalists who want to work with whistleblowers who expose government misconduct: obtain the information completely anonymously. If they do not know who provided the information, forcing them to testify will accomplish precisely nothing.
In other words, WikiLeaks. That is now the only viable model of investigative journalism, given Sterling‘s overt attack on freedom of the press.
Well done, Fourth Circuit. You’ve offered the most compelling defense of WikiLeaks to date.