Authored by Forrest Wilkinson - 21st August, 2006 - 11:56 pm
The year is 1970.
A twenty-seven-year-old soon-to-be-discharged Navy lieutenant sits in the waiting room of the West Wing of the White House. His only assignment; ensure the delivery of a package to the White House. While he is waiting, another man enters the room, thirty-years older and wiser than the Navy officer; he wears a suit and tie and takes a seat next to the service-man.
Having not much else to do, the two began a conversation and by the time they parted ways; Robert Woodward facing the new horizons of life outside of the Navy, had exchanged numbers with William Mark Felt, later known as the mysterious "Deep Throat," and decided to look to him as a mentor. Unbeknownst to either of them, their relationship would unfold into the revealing of one of the greatest controversies this country has ever seen -- Watergate.
Two years later, Bob Woodward was a journalist for The Washington Post, assigned to investigate the burglary of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters. Through a series of codes, the two were able to contact each other; and, confidentially, Felt revealed secrets of which he was aware of as the Associate Director of the FBI, at the time.
After President Richard Nixon resigned due to the disclosure and diligent reporting of Bob Woodward, The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Woodward himself would go one to win another Pulitzer, as well as the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency. As "the most celebrated journalist of our age," according to Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal, Woodward has written twelve best-selling non-fiction books and has been forever enshrined as one of the most loyal and honorable men of this day-and-age.
This was a prime example of reporters, relying on confidential sources to inform the public -- neither Woodward, nor his partner, Carl Bernstein, were ever incarcerated for their actions during the Watergate scandal.
When it is all said and done, the same may not be said for two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, whose work was praised as "a hymn to everything that I still want my business to be" by writer Mike Lupica of The New York Daily News. Instead, the US Government is trying to bring down the full-wrath of the law and impose the most austere punishment for each of the two. This is not only wrong; it's down-right hypocritical.
In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush declared, "To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now."
Congress became extremely active in the matters of illegal drugs in baseball as 2004 carried on -- it put pressure on Major League Baseball to hunt down steroid users and administer harsh penalties to all those who chose to use such drugs. Prior to that, the feds had begun an investigation into Victor Conte and the suspicious activity of Bay Area Laboratories Co-operative (BALCO), and had summoned several individuals to testify before a grand jury, many of whom were professional athletes, about the actions of BALCO.
Along with Conte, the government investigated trainer Greg Anderson, vice-president James Valente, and track coach Remi Korchemny; both Anderson and Conte came to agreement with the government and cut plea bargains, pleading guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering. However, the names of the athletes who testified were classified and never revealed to the public by the government. Essentially, Congress wanted to paint a public picture of the decisive failure of high-profile athletes who used steroids; unfortunately, Congress seemed less than willing to carry out the proper procedures in order to reveal steroid-users, as was the MLB.
Luckily for Congress, Major League Baseball, and the public, there were two, little-known San Francisco Chronicle reporters who were. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams devoted years of their lives to this story and its conclusion, using hundreds of sources along the way, some of which were guaranteed confidentiality. This is a common practice among investigative-journalists; much information cannot be obtained if the reporter is revealing the names of their sources. The government itself uses this very same philosophy: Guarantee anonymity in order to obtain certain information from certain witnesses -- it's the foundation for the concept of the Witness Protection Program. Doctor-Patient Privilege also serves to protect doctors from having to divulge evidence which was given to them in confidence by a patient. Why should reporters be expert from a similar privilege when some of their information is given to them confidentially? This is precisely the question asked by Fainaru-Wada and Williams.
When I spoke with their lawyer, Eve Burton, she expressed the necessity for sources to reveal information to reporters while protecting their identity. "I think that they [Fainaru-Wada and Williams] have the constitutional right to protect their sources. I think law-enforcement's interest in determining who leaked the information to the press has to be balanced against the significant public-reporting that these guys did. Without the laws that have protected journalist for the past thirty years," she contended, "We wouldn't have had Watergate, we wouldn't have had BALCO, and we won't have the next government corruption case that comes along. That's the importance to the public in this. The reporters [must] be able to provide public information, and without the use of confidential sources -- carefully conceived, properly used -- we will not learn about important matters that involve our government."
When asked whether or not she felt there was ever a time that a reporter should reveal a confidential source, she said, "It's not this case; let's just put it that way."
The public has simply been apprehensive to this information. One day, it seems that the public wants to know who is using steroids; but when a few reporters finally expose the truth, they are criticized for their "improper journalism." The question isn't how these writers obtained their information; it's whether or not the public wants to hear the truth. It's the basis of this country; it's the basis of free-press which is meant to act as a check on the government and on large-scale business. If we are unwilling to accept these truths, then we might as well resign the First Amendment and surrender the constitution the Founding Fathers worked so hard to uphold. This isn't a case of journalistic malpractice.
Bob Egelko, colleague of the two authors of the book, Game of Shadows, and legal reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle told me, "I don't think this is a case of journalists tricking someone into revealing information. Mark and Lance exchanged a promise of confidentiality in order to receive information, and they are upholding that promise." When I asked him whether or not he would go to jail instead of revealing a confidential source, he quickly answered, "Absolutely." And he isn't alone.
Mr. Egelko added, "Do I believe the book? Yeah. It makes [Bonds and others] look like [they committed] perjury. I believe that [Marka and Lance] were sensitive in the sources they chose. Could it be unreliable? Yes. [The public] could find out that the information [which Fainaru-Wada and Williams received] was unreliable.
?Journalists have been known to pressure and trick sources into revealing information. I don't think that [Mark and Lance] tried to pressure their sources. I think that they did some good reporting and exchanged a promise of confidentiality in order to receive information. So I don't think there was trickery involved in this case."
On Pardon the Interruption, airing on ESPN, Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser debated the topic of the reporters facing jail time. Kornheiser addressed Wilbon with the question, "We are reporters like [Fainaru-Wada and Williams], and we are sportswriters like them, this is a matter of sports, not National Security, would you go to jail to protect a sports-source?"
Wilbon, to an agreeing Kornheiser, responded, "Yes...Yes I would. I don't care what you're reporting on, you can't do anything more honorable that protect your source, and you can't do anything more dishonorable than give up your sources, and yes, I would go to jail. Yes. I think that if you're [a journalist] -- and maybe if you're outside, you don't understand -- you cannot give up your sources. Whether it's 'Deep Throat' and you're Bob Woodward, and it lasts thirty years, you just can't do it."
Kornheiser added, "I understand that there's a technical reason why the prosecutors are going after [the reporters]. Although, what they revealed in the Grand Jury testimony is not being questioned. I think these guys did a public service. They shone a light on baseball that baseball refused to shine on itself for quite some time, and now the anti-drug things have real teeth for baseball. I think these guys would go to jail...I don't think they should."
One can listen to virtually any radio station or watch any television panel debate this topic, and he or she will find that reporters all agree -- confidential sources are forever confidential, unless that person decides to reveal him or herself.
The opinion of the public on the protection of confidential sources differs considerably. In a recent online-survey, ESPN recorded 22,111 votes, 60% of which responded 'yes' to the question, "Should the authors of 'Game of Shadows' be forced to reveal their sources in court?"
It seems that most cannot understand the measures taken by investigative reporters each-and-every day to publish truthful material for the public. According to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since 1992, 570 journalists have been confirmed killed, not including the 201 reporters killed with unconfirmed motives.
Confidential sources, on-the-record sources, corporate sources -- it doesn't matter, the story is all that's important, and I'd stretch to say that most journalists would jump at the opportunity to publish a story like those published about the BALCO Investigation.
Nonetheless, certain individuals feel compelled as self-proclaimed philanthropists to accuse these two reporters of a crime, of somehow obstructing justice by staying loyal to their sources.
I had the opportunity to speak with both Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in a RealGM Exclusive Interview about their book, as well as their recent subpoena to testify and give-up their confidential sources. But at the depths of all of the conversations I had with different individuals who were involved with Mr. Fainaru-Wada and Mr. Williams, as well as the investigation of the BALCO case, itself, was the possibility of a government leak. This certainly wouldn't be the first time during the tenure of the Bush Administration that a leak, possibly intentional, has been insinuated.
In the controversial revelation of Valerie Plame's status as an under-cover CIA operative, this country's government found itself in the midst of a public conspiracy. Because of her husband, Joseph C. Wilson's critical remarks and previous donations to the Al Gore campaign, it is believed by many that the administration may have been attempting to -- in some way, shape or form -- punish Wilson for his political affirmations, and defamatory editorial article, which appeared in the New York Times. Whether or not Plame, whose name seemed to "slip off the tongue" of two government officials -- believed to be Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- was wrapped in the middle of a government conspiracy, or simply the victim of poor CIA protection -- reporters were implicated heavily by the government. Robert Novak, the original reporter who revealed Plame's CIA affiliation, claimed in a later article that he cooperated with investigators, only after receiving waivers signed by his sources which gave him permission to reveal their identities. However, another journalist, Judith Miller, would seem to have been uninformed, as she was held in contempt of the court after refusing to reveal her sources and served 85 days in jail.
Another American journalist, Josh Wolf, who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, as a freelance journalist and ran his own video blog, was also imprisoned after refusing to turn over video footage he had obtained during a public protest.
Lance Williams seemed to question the government's motives, "We always thought there was a disconnect between the government's interest in steroid use. There's no question that the people who put the case [against BALCO] together bent over backwards to protect the users of the drugs. First they condoned their use of illegal drugs, then they excised all of their names from the court filings. It goes on to this day -- this attempt to protect these wealthy athletes."
His partner had similar thoughts, "This was a case that was prosecuted in such a way that it was looking at these four guys who were essentially dealing to athletes. But it ignored, or avoided, the issue of these substances in sports. So you have these high-profile athletes, multi-million dollar athletes in some cases, who were the users of the drugs and, wanting to clean up sports," Mr. Fainaru-Wada asserted.
"[Congress] probably [should] expose those people, and yet, all those athletes are protected and their names were hidden from public file, or retracted by using generic names such as 'A Major League Baseball player', 'an NFL player', those types of things. And so, I think, we've never really taken lightly the issue of Grand Jury secrecy and Grand Jury process, but at the same time, we felt like this was material that was relevant for the public to know and was being shielded from the public. You had athletes that were out there public ally stating that they had not used these substances and yet they had testified otherwise. And we thought that this was of value to the public and that's what you're judging, you're thinking about reporting information."
And how hypocritical it is for a government, which so ardently predicated the cleaning up of professional sports, which got involved in baseball for the soul purpose of exposing the players who used these performance-enhancing drugs, to protect the identities of the athletes who were using the drugs? Are they really trying to send a message to the aspiring athletes of America -- the high-school athletes who are considering using these drugs to safeguard their starting-positions?
Mr. Fainaru-Wada continued, "The case was dealt with like a typical drug case where they went after the users to get to the dealers and what they did was they offered these users immunity. They said, 'Testify before the Grand Jury, tell the truth, and we're not going to prosecute you.' And so, they hid the names from the public view. The problem with this is, this is not the traditional drug case. This is a sort of upside-down drug case. The users, in this case, are not buying things on the street corners for $25 or $100; they're million-dollar-athletes, in some cases, enhancing their performances to make more millions. And that's why this case plays out in a different way and that's what makes the way the government handled it interesting. Anyone who has really covered this case will tell you that the story doesn't really resonate until a face is put to the users of these drugs. It's not enough to distinguish some guys, who were dealing drugs to random people or some high-names, and you don't know necessarily what the big-names were using.
The story's really got traction with Congress and with Major League Baseball with the names put to [the users]. And I think that was largely a result of the reporting that was done by us and others."
BALCO, indeed, was a quite large supplier of different types of steroids, notably "the clear" and "the cream." But with the public's interests in mind, the government should have also gone after the users, to present the appearance to other would-be or soon-to-become users of steroids that those who take steroids will be caught, and their reputations will be ruined.
When steroid allegations started to circulate -- for the most part, without any professional athletes being formally accused -- it seemed that athletes and their trainers had developed the perfect drug, which would elude positive tests and prevent its users from ever being caught. With this in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the number of high school students who admit to having used steroids doubled from 1998 to 2003, from 3.1% to 6.1% -- students think they can get away with this use.
That's not even mentioning the fact that the number of high school students who believed steroid use was dangerous dropped 20% from 2000 to 2001, according to the Monitoring the Future survey.
And one must remember that there are indubitably thousands, perhaps more, of high school students who are afraid to admit their use on these surveys -- the numbers are astonishing. Mark and Lance are doing more than a public service, they are saving lives.
But, you say, "What about the truck-loads of money these two must be pulling in through the publishing of their book?" It's unfortunate that so many seem to believe that they published this book as a disputatious "get rich quick" scheme.
For more information on the 'millions' that they've already made, I looked to Mark for an answer, "Lance has a 'semi-joke' that, he did the math, and he makes, in a year, as a reporter for the Chronicle, what Bonds makes in three innings...We haven't seen anything from royalties yet. All I can say is, we're not getting rich, we're not retiring, we're not buying new houses, we're not buying mansions or anything like that. I'm not going to change my status (Laughs). And I would just say, even if it did, it's not relevant. I didn't do this for the money, Lance didn't do this for the money; we did this because we love reporting, because this is a great story, and because it's an important one, and that's why we did it."
Lance had something similar to say, "We were paid enough of an advance to be able to take time off of work to write our book, we weren't doing this to make money or get rich, and if you think that I'm going through this mess in order to enrich myself, you're just confused -- that's not the way it works."
So why take the risk of going to jail, just to report a story? When the idea of jail time was brought up again, Lance seemed a bit flustered at first, he then responded, "As far as the government coming after us, the world has changed since this story was published. In [the days of Woodward and Bernstein], the government was not going around the country subpoenaing reporters. This is a very new development. It's really an innovation of the current Attorney General, as far as I can tell. But the number of reporters subpoenaed in the past decade is not very great. And the number subpoenaed recently is a large proportion of the number subpoenaed in the past 20 to 25 years. We didn't know we were risking jail, we thought [the government] would try to find out the sources, but we really did not anticipate that it would get to this point. Because as a matter of practice, that wasn't what they were doing in those days."
Mark added, "Lance and I clearly would never be able to do our jobs again if we made the decision to give up our sources. What source is going to be willing to talk to us in the future, if our decision is to say, 'Oh -- we made a promise to you, but now things have gotten bad so we're not going to keep the promise.' That's just not the way it works."
It's time to appreciate the levels of reporting -- the intense investigation -- and the information that these two reporters provided for the public. Finally the public can feel some type of closure on the existence of steroids in baseball.
The government, unfortunately, is unwilling to recognize the State of California's Shield Law, which 30 other states also currently use and which protects a reporter's right to keep their sources confidential -- if they did, these reporters would be safe from prosecution.
The paperback version of the book Game of Shadows, currently ranks as #236,099 among Amazon.com's top-selling books. The hardback version ranks 4,852 and sits 5 spots behind Success as a Real Estate Agent For Dummies, in Amazon's top-selling books. As I sit here, Lance and Mark are in-and-out of court-rooms, flushing thousands of dollars into the expenses of protecting their sources in court.
Their morale is holding up, or so Mr. Egelko said -- "They're handling themselves well."
Four years after Bob Woodward's book, The Final Days, was released, detailing Richard Nixon's resignation, due mainly to the secret testimony of William Felt, who Nixon believed was the mysterious "Deep Throat;" Felt found himself facing criminal charges. Richard Nixon was among those who testified on Felt's behalf. The man who had gone through extreme measures to ruin the reputation of President Nixon, was defended by Nixon himself. It is this kind of support which reporters such as Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams need and deserve. And until they receive it, the government will always be one-step ahead of the public.
The fact that Mark and Lance are standing up for their sources, willing to be imprisoned rather than reveal them, shows the two's inspiring passion for the story they spent so much time investigating. They did this not for the money, not for the fame, but because they believed in a cause, they believed in journalism, and that is honorable. They are the epitome of what journalists aspire to be -- reporters of the truth. No matter the consequences. And they stand as icons in the journalism world today, as they will for years to come.
It is my deepest wish that the courts will eventually block the subpoena issued against Fainaru-Wada and Williams, so they can continue investigating, continue to inform the public. And maybe with their help; someday, baseball can rid itself of many illegal drugs, even if the source of their information is never revealed.
Questions, Comments, Concerns, Critiques, Criticisms: