The idea of incarcerating someone who has not been charged with a crime is generally repugnant to the American conscience. The idea of sending people who have not committed a crime to jail in order to get information out of them is even more so. And perhaps that is what is so disturbing about a judge's order Thursday sentencing two newspaper reporters to 18 months in federal prison for refusing to disclose the source for their stories about athletes' drug use that implicated baseball powerhouses Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, among others.
In 2004, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a series of stories (and, later, a book) on the steroid scandal that rocked Major League Baseball and that continues to have repercussions today. Problem is, some of their information came from secret grand jury testimony. They broke no law in publishing it, but whoever passed it along to them did - and, citing their right to confidentiality, they aren't saying who that is.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White found that grand jury secrecy is critical to the integrity of the justice system and outweighs the reporters' promise of confidentiality. And yet, is it not also critical to our notion of law and justice that jailing non-criminals should be sanctioned, if at all, in only the hardest of cases? And does this one meet that standard?
Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds are still playing ball. The head of the company that dealt in illegal doping served four months in prison. And the guys who told us about it are facing a year and a half. It may be legal, but it ain't right.