Four Reporters Jailed after Refusing to Testify

By Shaw, Russell | Editor & Publisher, December 14, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Four Reporters Jailed after Refusing to Testify

Shaw, Russell, Editor & Publisher

Four reporters jailed after refusing to testify

A federal judge in Columbia, S.C., ordered four newspaper reporters detained for several hours on Nov. 20 and 21 due to their refusal to testify in the corruption trial of South Carolina state Sen. J.M. "Bud" Long.

Detained on contempt-of-court charges in holding facilities at the federal courthouse in Columbia, S.C., were reporters Sid Gaulden and Schuyler Kropf of the Post-Courier, Charleston, S.C.; Cindi Ross Scoppe of The State, Columbia, S.C.; and Andrew Shain of the Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The contempt citations are being appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Sen. Long was videotaped by the FBI taking $2,800 from pari-mutuel industry lobbyist Ron Cobb, but denied wrongdoing, testifying the money was a loan to keep his house out of threatened foreclosure proceedings.

The reporters' testimony was sought by prosecutors seeking to establish a pattern, based on the fact that Sen. Long had told the reporters in separate interviews during 1990 that he had accepted a $300 campaign contribution from the same lobbyist.

"The government is entitled to this testimony," U.S. Attorney Bart Daniel said during the proceedings.

The State editor Gil Thelen disagreed with Daniel's contention. He said that, since the $300 campaign contribution admitted to by Sen. Long and subsequently reported by the three newspapers was not believed to be illegal in itself, the reporters had no direct knowledge of a crime and should not have been compelled to testify.

"The reporters would have been happy to provide affidavits that their stories were true and accurate to the best of their knowledge, but to be put up there and asked to bring their notes and act as an arm of the prosecution - that is wrong," Thelen declared.

"I think it is appropriate to detect and prosecute corruption, but I don't think anyone ever envisioned reporters as being annexed to the U.S. attorney or FBI as investigators," the reporters' attorney Jay Bender observed.

Through Bender, the journalists claimed reporters' privilege, an action that moved prosecutor A.W. Bethea to point at Bender and shout, "He's disobeying the law just like any other criminal in this state."

While verbally sympathetic to the reporters' plight, U.S. District Court Judge Falcon Hawkins ruled that the 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals does not recognize such protection and ordered the four journalists detained by federal marshals in a holding area of the courthouse.

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