Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

The Chron Behind Bars 

A judge has ordered two Chronicle reporters to serve time unless they divulge their source on Bonds' steroid use. Do you think they should be made to spill the beans?

Wednesday, Sep 27 2006
A federal judge last week ordered two San Francisco Chronicle reporters to prison for as long as 18 months, pending their appeal, with the aim of pressuring them into revealing their sources of confidential grand jury testimony about star athletes who admitted using steroids. Journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams promised never to give up their sources, and U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said he would send the journalists to federal prison — rejecting fines as too moderate — if they lost their appeals of his earlier order. The Chronicle has devoted extensive coverage to the trial of its own reporters, and the case has become one of the benchmarks in a national effort to create federal protection for journalists who report on confidential information. Are you an apologist for the federal grand jury and the U.S. District Court? Take our quiz and find out!

1) The leaked testimony came out of a federal grand jury in San Francisco that was investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. A second grand jury later was convened under the supervision of the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, Debra Wong Yang, to find the source of the leaks, and it was Yang who asked White to jail the reporters for 18 months. Do you think that's a fair sentence?

A) Oh, yeah? I hereby sentence Yang to 18 more months in Los Angeles! How do you like that?

B) Absolutely not. Martha Stewart couldn't even redecorate her cell in that time.

C) Put them away for life. Hearst Corp. will be cutting jobs again soon, anyway, and at least they can go out like heroes.

2) Fainaru-Wada and Williams' articles in 2004 quoted closed-door grand jury testimony from several superstar athletes, including Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees, sprinter Tim Montgomery, and Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who said he had taken substances he thought were flaxseed oil and rubbing balm for arthritis. Bonds is now under a perjury investigation by a separate grand jury investigating his sworn testimony. How did the unearthed testimony help you come to grips with the scope of the steroid scandal?

A) It's true: I never would have known what flaxseed oil was otherwise.

B) Until an athlete admits his steroid use in front of a bank of TV cameras in a pre-arranged news conference, I refuse to believe secret testimony in front of a grand jury. Go ahead, call me old-fashioned.

C) Please. Who are you going to believe when it comes to steroids? A couple of journalists, or Barry Bonds?

3) Other Chronicle reporters have been quick to present their own takes on their colleagues' difficult situation. Which of the following lines from columnist C.V. Nevius' blog on do you find the most poignant?

A) "Mark and Lance have desks over near mine at the Chronicle. Just in the interest of full disclosure, I wouldn't say we are good friends. We nod to each other and chat from time to time."

B) "Time will pass. The rest of us will go to a movie or out to eat, and they will slip from our thoughts."

C) "They will be locked up with criminals."

4) The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently considering a proposed federal shield law for reporters that would allow journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources except in cases involving national security. California's own media shield law doesn't apply to the Chronicle reporters, because they used federal grand jury testimony to report their articles, so their case is covered by federal law and federal courts. What do you think of a federal shield law?

A) Can it keep us from hearing about the government? That's the law I'd like to see.

B) If it's the same as missile defense, I'm all for it.

C) Are you kidding? The last thing this country needs is more journalists running around reporting the inner workings of the government. I think recent history has shown, quite convincingly, that everything is just fine behind the scenes.

5) Editor Phil Bronstein, in a letter from the editor last week, staunchly defended Williams and Fainaru-Wada, articulating his belief in a press that peels back the curtain to reveal uneasy truths. Which of the following lines from his column do you think sheds the most light on the First Amendment issues this case raises?

A) "Invoking the First Amendment and Watergate, or 'The Pentagon Papers,' seems like overreaching in this case. After all, this isn't about national security."

B) "Besides, the courts will decide those issues."

C) "It's the public's choice whether it wants to keep believing in the wizard or not."

6) Although President Bush told the two reporters, "You've done a service," at an awards dinner in Washington, D.C., some legal analysts think his administration is behind the aggressive pursuit of Williams and Fainaru-Wada, mindful of other secrets it would like to protect from prying journalists. Do you think there's any credence to that theory?

A) I'm confused. Didn't Bush want baseball cleaned up? Or was he talking about the uniforms?

B) Oh, come on. The government has much better things to do than stick its nose into the affairs of individual journalists. This isn't Hewlett-Packard we're talking about.

C) Well, the president only said they did a service. He didn't say whether it was a good service.

7) And finally, do you think the two journalists are right to serve their time in jail and withhold the source of their information from prosecutors?

A) Go to jail just to protect Victor Conte? Nah ...

B) Hey, wait a minute. Isn't all this information in Book of Shadows? Can't the grand jury just read that?

C) Yes, I think it's a fine stand for them to take. Now if only Bronstein would handcuff himself to them ...

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: Don't worry. Other than this little dust-up, the First Amendment is doing great these days.

7-10 points: Look, let's remember what's truly important here: Barry Bonds hits a lot of home runs.

11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for the federal grand jury and the U.S. district court. Now who wants to bet on whether the Chronicle serializes the two reporters' accounts of their time in jail?

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"