Why We Should Be Wary of Leaks

From The New York Times.

The judge who unsealed the Grimsley affidavit had harsh words for The Los Angeles Times, which printed a report in October 2006 headlined “Clemens Is Named in Drug Affidavit.” Clemens was not named in the affidavit, although he was named last week by Mitchell.

The newspaper had been challenged on the accuracy of its story by the United States attorney in 2006. It had said its report was based on two sources and that its reporter, Lance Pugmire, had seen the affidavit, and the newspaper stood by the report. In fact, the Los Angeles Times got four of the five people it named wrong.

Edward C. Voss, a United States magistrate judge, wrote in the unsealing order signed Thursday: “A review of the disclosed affidavit proves that the Times never saw the unredacted affidavit. Roger Clemens is not named in the affidavit and Grimsley makes no reference to Roger Clemens in any context. At best, the article is an example of irresponsible reporting. At worst, the ‘facts’ reported were simply manufactured.”

Voss wrote he was “compelled to point out what appears to be an example of abusive reporting.”

The Los Angeles Times said it planned to run a correction Friday. “We acknowledge the inaccuracies of the report and deeply regret the mistake,” Stephan Pechdimaldji, a spokesman for The Times, wrote in an e-mail message.

Clemens’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, seized on the error as an indication of Clemens’s veracity, since he has denied accusations in the Mitchell report.

“When this grossly inaccurate story broke in 2006, Roger said it was untrue and the Los Angeles Times chose not to believe him,” Hardin wrote in a statement. “As the record now proves, Roger was telling the truth then just as he continues to tell the truth today.”

The Los Angeles Times report listed five names it said a reporter had seen when shown the unredacted affidavit by “a source with authorized access” to the affidavit. Of those five, it got four wrong: Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons were not named in the affidavit.

The newspaper correctly identified Tejada.

Ouch! Here is the correction by the LA Times; though, the tone is hardly apologetic. While I understand the the newspaper wanted clarification of claimed inaccuracies, the point is that the newspaper wrongly believed its personnel had seen the actual affidavit, which it had not.

This is one of the issues that scares me about Game of Shadows. It’s an interesting read, and I will not be surprised if it turns out to be 100% correct in its reporting of grand jury testimony—after all, the guy who leaked it is in jail. I believe it is highly irresponsible for media organizations to leak documents from legal proceedings when the legal process is still ongoing. There is a reason these proceedings are sealed. How are the accused supposed to respond to these accusations? They can deny it, but both the guilty and innocent have incentives to deny; therefore, it is hard to believe such claims.

One Response “Why We Should Be Wary of Leaks”

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    I agree with you JC. There is a reason grand jury testimony is supposed to be secret and it bothers me that media organizations have no compunctions about breaking the law. The grand jury isn’t like the Pentagon Papers–there are legitimate reasons to keep the testimony secret and it is extremely unfair to the targets of the investigation to print testimony without corroboration and often out of context. The media seems to think that their First Amendment rights trump an individual’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment due process rights.