When the government targets traditional journalists seeking information about confidential sources, reporters like Judy Miller can at least rest easy knowing they have the full force of news organizations like The New York Times (and their lawyers) behind them. Even if they end up spending some time in jail after refusing to name names, they have stood up for their journalistic ethics and probably haven’t had to shell out any of their own money for sky high legal bills.
But what happens when bloggers are the subject of a government subpoena? That is the situation going on right now with at least two travel bloggers, Christopher Elliott and Steven Frischling, who published a leaked TSA document spelling out its security measures following the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day.
Both bloggers have now been served subpoenas by the Department of Homeland Security, seeking information about who handed off this top secret doc to them. Elliott says he told the federal agent who showed up at his door that he’d call his lawyer and get back to him. “What would you do?” he asked his readers. The blog post containing the full text of his subpoena has already drawn 160 comments. (In addition to blogging on his own site, Elliott is also National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate, writes a column for The Washington Post and a syndicated newspaper column, contributes to MSNBC.com and co-hosts a satellite radio show.)
Frischling also wrote about his experience of receiving a subpoena and has said he is also seeking the advice of an attorney.
While it’s understandable why the TSA would want to know where leaks in their offices are coming from, are they unfairly bullying bloggers? The well-sourced bloggers who consistently break news will not be swayed against stopping by this situation, but these two now face a difficult and important decision. Should they avoid legal trouble for themselves by giving up their sources? Or should they hold themselves to the same journalistic standards they teach in J-school? How will one decision or another affect the blogging community and its efforts to be accepted as legitimate news sources?
We’ll be tracking this story as it develops.
In the gig economy, who protects journalist bloggers? –Chris Around the World
Full Text of my subpoena from the Department of Homeland Security –Chris Elliott’s blog
The Feds At My Door –Flying With Fish
(Photo via flickr)