Friday, November 19, 2004

Taricani's plight

Pardon me while I retch this morning at the news (reg. req.) that TV reporter Jim Taricani has been found in contempt of court for failing to reveal the source of a videotape he broadcast and now faces a possible six months in prison.

To recap: Jim has refused to tell a special prosecutor where he got a tape that showed corruption by the chief fund-raiser for former Providence Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci. Hizzoner and the others are now doing federal time. The special prosecutor in the case launched an FBI investigation into who leaked the tape. When he tried to get Taricani to reveal the source, Taricani refused.

Jim is a helluva reporter, a former competitor who was a joy to compete against when I ran the AP's Providence office, and a friend. I know all the people involved from my days in Rhode Island (aka "A journalist's theme park"), and I'm sure Judge Ernest Torres did agonize over the decision. There are no winners in this case -- except the public, which, thanks to Jim, got a clear look at the often-corrupt underbelly of Rhode Island politics. (State motto: We know what we are; we're merely negotiating the price.)

For now, all I can do is offer moral outrage and support -- and I urge you to do the same through professional organizations, etc. Jim, who has had a heart implant, needs all the legal firepower he can get. He is taking the bullet for the rest of us. I suspect that ultimately he will be unsuccessful given the current state of affairs in this country. But perhaps some good can come out of this if it mobilizes all of us to push for a federal shield law and continue to push the courts to modify Branzburg v. Hayes.

Do you find it as ironic as I do that during a time when the press is being excoriated for not doing its job that when someone like Jim does his job well ...


At 11/22/04, 9:38 AM, Blogger reynolds said...

I worked with jim taricani in providence for twenty-plus years and can only add to the ptaises being bestowed,

At 12/17/04, 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>thanks to Jim, [the public] got a clear look at the often-corrupt underbelly of Rhode Island politics.

What are you talking about?

This is the false spin Judge Torres was referring to. NYT guilty too -- see First Amendment Desecrated by New York Times .

At 12/17/04, 3:05 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

What am I talking about?

Well, let's see. When I left Rhode Island, at least two judges were under indictment, the governor was about to be charged by the feds, the mayor of Pawtucket was doing federal time and the feds had declared the entire city of Pawtucket a racketeering and corrupt enterprise.

It was sport, when covering the legislature, just to try to uncover the "fix" that was in retirement bills.

And Buddy was, well, Buddy. And Jim, by broadcasting the tape, gave people a glimpse of what too sadly was business as usual in that state.

The defense rests.

At 12/20/04, 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, this is simply no response. I won't repeat Judge Torres's cogent arguments explaining objections to Taricani's act. See "First Amendment Desecrated by New York Times" link above.

At 12/21/04, 1:51 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I respect Judge Torres, which is what makes this a difficult call for me. I am troubled by the indication this was held for sweeps week; I have said that in another posting. But I disagree with Judge Torres on several counts:
-- Yes, other laws make it "difficult" to do the job of a reporter. I find that an unpersuasive argument, however, more along the lines of "everyone's doing it" logic. I would argue, in reverse, that makes it all the more important to resist those cases where we can make a cogent argument, such as source protection (not saying you must agree with the argument). There are many laws that after years of cogent arguments have been changed. All law is a matter of continuum, the end points of which change over time as society evaluates, sifts and re-evaluates arguments.
-- Will it chill sources? Perhaps not this one ruling, but the weight of such rulings will. There is nothing governments like more, in my experience, than control. Thus the spate of laws, regulations and internal rulings seeking such control I have encountered during the years, too often overreaching and covering such basic information that any member of a democracy should have access to it. Confidential sources broke a law, rule or regulation almost every time they talked to me, yet because they did, I think my reporting was richer and fuller and benefited the public.
-- Put me in the category of being simply highly suspicious of any governmental process in Rhode Island. Perhaps the tape would be shown at trial, perhaps not. I think Jim made sure the public knew what was behind the case.

I hope we can agree on one thing -- journalism has brought this upon itself by increasingly becoming trivial and by using anonymous sources not in only the most important cases, but indiscriminately, somtimes simply to give cachet to a story. Sourcing a story has become like crack to too many journalists, I fear. We too easily, in the heat of competition, resort to the "we can't get this elsewhere" argument instead of putting in the hard work and shoeleather to get it confirmed. What other kind of public reaction can we expect when we do that? If we cheapen the sourcing, the public will discount its value across the board.


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