Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Major Victory for Press Freedom

Ever hear the name Sarah Olson? Probably not, and that is because her plight has received shamefully little attention in the news media. (The only exception I could find: an LA Times editorial.)

Olson is a a 31-year-old freelance journalist who was subpoenaed to testify against Ehren Watada, an Army Lieutenant who refused to serve in Iraq. She refused, and faced imprisonment as a result. Here's a roundup of the case in The Nation's blog.

The Nation blog quoted her as saying that "it's not a reporter's job to participate in the prosecution of her own sources. When you force a journalist to participate, you run the risk of turning the journalist into an investigative tool of the state."

She's right. There's nothing wrong with a journalist sharing the same aims as the government, in reporting on crime and malfeasance, for instance. If Watada were an accused murderer and Olson a witness, there'd have been no justification for resisting a subpoena to testify against him.

But in this instance, all Olson did was quote the man.

As I often try to explain to people -- in making them understand the problems with the SEC's subpoenas of journalists last year, for instance -- journalists can't let themselves be press-ganged into becoming junior g-men.

Fortunately, this saga seems to have a happy ending. The Honolulu Advertiser reports that the subpoenas have been dropped -- with nary a word on the affair appearing in the press.

Compare the silence on Olson with the media circus surrounding Maria Bartiromo. It's really disgraceful.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.


Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site.

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