Thursday, August 09, 2001

Source for story need not be named

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A federal magistrate will not order an editor and former reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer to identify any confidential sources.

        Magistrate Jack Sherman Jr. ruled Wednesday that the editor and reporter can invoke Ohio's “shield law,” which protects journalists who refuse to identify sources.

        The ruling comes one month after a Salt Lake City lawyer demanded in a lawsuit that the journalists admit he was a source for articles the newspaper published in 1998 about Chiquita Brands International Inc.

        The lawyer, George Ventura, accuses the Enquirer of breaking a promise to protect his identity. He sued the paper after Michael Gallagher, a fired Enquirer reporter, in a criminal proceeding against Mr. Ventura, identified him in court as a source.

        Both Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Ventura were later convicted of illegally accessing the voice-mail boxes of Chiquita executives. The newspaper renounced the articles and paid Chiquita more than $10 million.

        Mr. Ventura has sought testimony from Cameron McWhirter, now with the Detroit News, and former metro editor David Wells, now associate editorial page editor at the Enquirer. Mr. Ventura claims the two can shed light on how his name was made public.

        But attorneys for the newspaper maintain that no Enquirer employee ever named a confidential source, and they argued that neither Mr. McWhirter nor Mr. Wells should be ordered to reveal one now.

        The newspaper argued that Ohio's shield law still applies even though Mr. Ventura has publicly stated he was a source.

        Mr. Ventura's lawyers argued that the newspaper was hiding behind the shield law to avoid answering questions about how his name became public. They said the shield law should not apply because there no longer is a confidential source to protect.

        The magistrate disagreed. He said journalists, not sources, have the right to invoke the shield law.

        Magistrate Sherman did, however, order Mr. McWhirter and Mr. Wells to answer some questions posed by Mr. Ventura that would not identify a source. A trial is set for January.


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