What does Bonds indictment mean for reporters Fainaru-Wada and Williams?

How will Bonds' indictment affect reporters whose coverage of the story led to their being subpoenaed and later found in contempt for not revealing their anonymous sources?

The news that home run record holder Barry Bonds had been indicted came as a shock to much of the bay area yesterday. For several years, Bonds' legal struggle has made headlines and helped shed a light on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports, but after such a prolonged saga, it seemed unlikely that the Giants star would go down. His personal trainer Greg Anderson (whom I met while at the Federal Detention Center in Dublin, CA), spent over a year in custody for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury and many believed that Bonds' indictment hinged on the testimony Anderson had refused to provide.

Anderson is out today, but there is no reason that he caved and testified. The grand jury was due to expire next month and its extraordinarily unlikely that he would give up now. Former US Attorney Kevin Ryan confirmed on a radio news program this morning. Anderson's attorney Peter Garagos stated, Law.com, "Frankly I'm aghast. It looks like the government misled me and Greg as well, saying this case couldn't go forward without him."

There are many unanswered questions about why the government brought the indictment when they did, but what's just barely been mentioned is how this turn-of-events will affect Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, whose coverage of the story for the San Francisco Chronicle and their book, Game of Shadows, led to the reporters being subpoenaed and later found in contempt for not revealing their anonymous sources.

Williams told Editor & Publisher that "It is a huge story, but one I never thought I'd write." His story of the news appeared on the front of today's San Francisco Chronicle though Fainaru-Wada has since gone to work for ESPN. Though he didn't anticipate the indictment, Williams is optimistic that the public will become better educated about the scandal through the trial process. "By the time we are done with this, the public will get to see all of the evidence that has been kept secret."

It's not known whether Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada will be called to testify in the trial, but Williams has indicated in the past that he would never out a confidential source. He told Editor & Publisher that he has no desire to become a part of the case and promises to "fight like wildcats against it."

In many ways the case is parallel to that of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Like Bonds, Libby was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice; in both cases the government pressured journalists to assist the prosecution's case. Though Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for not cooperating with the Grand Jury, there were more members of the media testifying in Libby's actual trial than at most journalist conferences.

While a federal shield law has since passed the House of Representatives, it still hasn't made its way through the Senate and would thus do nothing to protect Williams and Fainaru-Wada against having to testify. It's possible that the reporters will be spared another long drawn-out legal battle, but Bonds indictment may prove yet another opportunity for the federal government to go after the press with the vengeance they've demonstrated over the past few years.

When everything is said and done, who will walk away from this saga a winner? The Chronicle will surely sell a lot of papers, but they may have to spend any extra profit paying attorneys to defend their reporters. Greg Anderson has already spent a year in jail, and may find himself back inside if he is subpoenaed again. Barry Bonds reputation is already in tatters and he must now fight the government's contention that he was aware of his steroid use. Baseball will not be restored through this quest for "justice," and millions of tax dollars will be spent going after one of the most successful entertainers in the history of professional sports.

As I see it, the only real winner here is the outgoing interim US Attorney, Scott Schools. He spent his last day on the job handing out one of the most anticipated indictments in recent history and he won't be around to deal with the fallout if the case deteriorates during the trial. It's almost perfect: he may be able to screw his colleagues by delivering them a case that can't be won, while simultaneously landing an achievement that will not only go on his resume, but will be recorded in the history books as well.

About the author

    Josh Wolf first became interested in the power of the press after writing and distributing a screed against his high school's new dress code. Within a short time, the new dress code was abandoned, and ever since then he's been getting his hands dirty deconstructing the media every step of the way. Wolf recently became the longest-incarcerated journalist for contempt of court in U.S. history after he spent 226 days in federal prison for his refusal to cooperate. In Media sphere, Josh shares his daily insights on the developing information landscape and examines how various corporate and governmental actions effect the free press both in the United States and abroad.

     

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