Judge: Stripes reporter doesn't have to reveal sources for Linda Tripp story
WASHINGTON — A reporter for Stars and Stripes does not have to reveal the government sources who provided information about Linda Tripp’s application for a new job with the Defense Department, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said Sandra Jontz can invoke the reporter’s privilege to shield her from revealing confidential information in court, despite the fact that the newspaper is owned by the Defense Department.
“I’m very happy that it happened,” said Stripes’ publisher, Thomas Kelsch. “It shows that Stars and Stripes reporters, and Stars and Stripes, [are] willing to risk jail to operate properly.”
In his opinion, Sullivan wrote that the DOD and Congress intend for Stripes to operate like other commercial newspapers, and enjoy First Amendment protections and prohibitions.
“While it is true that Stars and Stripes is within DOD control, the legislative history of the National Defense Authorization Act reveals that Congress intended the information gathered by editors and reporters and published in Stars and Stripes to be free of interference from the DOD chain of command, provided it is balanced, accurate, and of interest to the readership.”
“If reporters can’t be guaranteed they will be able to protect their sources when it’s really necessary, they can’t do their jobs,” Jontz said. “I’m happy to learn the federal judge ruled to give that guarantee to Stars and Stripes.”
Tripp, whose secret tapes of conversations with Monica Lewinsky helped lead to President Clinton’s impeachment, sued the Pentagon in January 2001, alleging officials there illegally leaked to Stars and Stripes that she was interviewing for a job at the George Marshall Center in Germany.
The Jan. 23, 2001, European edition of Stars and Stripes carried a front-page story disclosing that Tripp was one of four candidates being considered for the new post. Tripp lost her political appointment at the Pentagon days before and the new job would have paid less, the newspaper reported.
Tripp claimed she was humiliated by publication of the fact that she was looking for a job below her grade level and alleged that the Defense Department violated her privacy by releasing the information to Jontz.
Tripp did not get the job.
Sullivan also concluded that Tripp had not tried hard enough to get the same information from other Defense Department employees.
Tripp’s attorney, David Colapinto, said that his team plans to pursue the matter.
“There is pending discovery, and the court said the ruling can be reconsidered. We want to get to who violated the Privacy Act, and it’s our contention that Stars and Stripes violated that act.”
David Mazzarella, editorial director of Stars and Stripes, said: “This ruling is doubly gratifying. On the one hand, it forcefully upholds Stars and Stripes’ independence and First Amendment status, something that is not always easily understood.
“At the same time, it recognizes a reporter’s ability to protect his or her sources against unreasonable demands for their disclosure. That shield is key in many newsgathering endeavors.”
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Associated Press that she was pleased that the judge allowed Stripes to be treated like other papers.
“Had it gone the other way, I think that would have sent a terrible message to the members of the armed services” that the newspaper is not truly independent, she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.