Jana Winter’s Fight for the First Amendment – Update

Jana Winter
Jana Winter, a Fox News reporter, on her way to her own trial for not revealing her sources in the James Holmes trial in Colorado.

Update: 12/10/13: The New York Supreme Court ruled in Jana Winter’s behalf today. They ruled 4 to 3 in her behavior. She does not have to return to Colorado and she does not have to testify in Colorado. She is protected by New York’s Shield law, the court rued. New York has a stronger Shield law than Colorado. It’s a win for freedom of the press.

The dissenters said it is an expansive interpretation of the law and reporters can’t expect to take the law wherever they go.


The AP (Associated Press), the largest news source in the world, has been pushing for PC speech since the late 1980’s when it determined that “anti-abortion” and “abortion rights,” non-equivalent terms, would be used in lieu of “pro-life” and “pro-abortion.”

The AP recently removed “illegal immigration” and “Islamist” from their stylebook, a book that is used by journalists throughout the country. Their goal is not to use proper language, it is to stifle free expression and to manipulate readers into thinking a certain way about a given topic.

Journalists are already facing stiff competition from technology and are being replaced by digital writers. Information is being converted into written pieces by technology. The pieces are shorter and they are less in-depth and generally shallower. Less information is getting out to the public.

At the same time, non-tradtional sources on the Internet are taking away business from the traditional media.

Ireland regulates their press. Ireland’s press regulations are monitored by an ombudsman and a council of publishers, public citizens, and journalists. The British government is moving ahead with its plan to employ a media regulator with the UK press in revolt.

The press is attempting to ward it off with a press council similar to Ireland’s. The Irish government hasn’t been stopped by the council, however, and is looking to regulate the press more stringently.

Regulation comes in many forms. If leakers are exposed and journalists jailed for revealing sources, that is a regulated press.

This is where reporter Jana Winter comes in. She is being ordered to reveal her confidential sources or face serious jail time. She has refused to do so stating that if she reveals her sources, her sources will dry up and she will no longer be able to do her job.

Jana Winter, a Fox reporter, covered the mass shooting in the Aurora movie theater. She did her job exceptionally well. She was the first to discover that the killer, James Holmes, had applied for membership in a private gun club a month before the shooting. The club owner said he rejected Holmes after listening to a weird message Holmes had taped on his answering machine.

Soon after, at the end of July, citing confidential law enforcement sources, Jana Winter said factually that a notebook existed that contained “drawings of what he was going to do in it — drawings and illustrations of the massacre,” her sources told her. “Among the images,” she reported, were “gun-wielding stick figures blowing away other stick figures.”

The defense claims this was a violation of the gag order. The judge wants to know who her sources were. She is refusing to tell as is her right under Colorado’s shield law.

Colorado’s shield law protects reporters from having to divulge their sources. To overcome that protection, lawyers try to put the reporter on the stand but to do so they must show that the information they want is centrally important to the case, that their interest in getting it outweighs the reporter’s First Amendment rights.

For now, the notebook has not been admitted into evidence and Jana Winter’s trial has been deferred until the judge rules whether or not her information is admissible. If it is, the credibility of her sources comes into question and the judge will demand to know who they are.

Reporters cannot do their job of revealing the truth if they are hamstrung by the courts.

New, far more devastating information from other sources reveals that Holmes’ psychiatrist warned campus police at the University of Colorado that Holmes was dangerous. Jana Winter’s report is of less consequence now.

NY Times reporter Judith Miller went through the same experience in 2005 and was jailed for two years under the Bush administration for not revealing her sources in the Valerie Plame case.

Judith Miller, writing for the CS Monitor:

A nation cannot remain free if the government alone decides what information its citizens are entitled to have. The Constitution’s framers well understood the need for an independent press when they enshrined the right to speak and publish freely in the 1st Amendment. Government attempts to restrict that freedom only prove the point.

In a new book, “Fighting for the Press,” James C. Goodale, who defended the New York Times and supported me in my struggle to protect my sources, warns that the government’s effort to keep information secret and the public in the dark by punishing leakers is intensifying. President Obama, he writes, has indicted more leakers “than any other president in the history of this country.”

This case reaches far beyond Jana Winter. This is about a free press and an important First Amendment right.

The case was ignored by the media until the last few days. They claim it was because Fox News is hypocritical. They are starting to pick up on the story now, except for the NY Times, which splayed the Judith Miller case across their front page for days-on-end.

She had to testify in court today but was not mandated to reveal her sources – yet. The judge said there are still other avenues to discover the sources which attorneys have been told to pursue. She is not off the hook however and is still facing contempt of court charges. [westword]

The Jana Winter case has far-reaching consequences. The press is supposed to act as watchdogs who protect the populace by exposing the truth and uncovering secrets. If they are not allowed to do so, another First Amendment right will be gone. If Jana Winter is jailed it will be for doing her job well and for protecting the First Amendment, and that is an outrage.