Reporter deserves medal, not jail time

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 20, 2004

The craft and career of journalism comes with many responsibilities and pressures. Chief among them is confidentiality with the sources that, many times, wish to remain anonymous. While referring to anonymous sources in a story is rare, and is generally only used as a last option, it is sometimes warranted when weighing the decision to publish a story that, if not published, may have a dramatic negative affect on the public at large. Confidentiality, candor and truthfulness rank at the top of the list of what every journalist from the executive editor to the cub reporter must believe in to faithfully execute the obligation they have to you, the reader.

That's why I read with great admiration the story of Jim Taricani, a broadcast news journalist at WJAR in Providence, R.I. Taraicani was recently convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to divulge who gave him a videotape that showed a city official taking a cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent. Since his conviction, Taricani has been paying a fine of $1,000 per day for refusing to reveal his source, but apparently the court feels that isn't a stiff enough penalty. He now faces jail time.

Taricani, 55, broke no law by airing the tape, which showed Frank Corrente, a top aid for former Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Jr., taking an envelope full of cash.

Email newsletter signup

The tape was evidence in a federal probe of corruption at Providence City Hall during Cianci, Jr.'s administration.

Both Cianci and Corrente were convicted in the corruption investigation and are serving time in federal prison.

While attorneys, investigators and defendants were under court order not to release any information regarding the investigation, Taricani, somehow got his hands on the tape, which was aired several times, two months before Cianci, Corrente and others were indicted in the federal investigation code-named "Operation Plunder Dome."

While Taricani is facing up to six months in prison for airing the tape (he'll be sentenced Dec. 9) his refusal to give up his source, and the possible consequences he faces for sticking to the journalist's code of ethics, is evidence that journalists face a different set of rules when they report to their desks each day.

I would venture a guess that most of you reading this don't face prison time for simply doing your job each day. But we as journalists do if we do our job and protect our sources, who often time do not come forward due to their lack of trust in the media and their belief they will be given up if things get tough.

That's why I respect people like Taricani, who stuck to the journalistic code of ethics and proved that he would not be intimidated by a court system that is attempting to force him to break the code.

In reviewing his decision to do what he said he would do in protecting his source, Taricani said "I’ve always said if I have to go to prison, I’ll go to prison. And I stand by that."

While I don't wish him prison time, I'm honored to work in a profession where one of our own would make such a sacrifice to do what is right for the public at large. As the saying goes, "The good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or one."

I agree.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Greenville Advocate. He can be reached at 383-9302, ext. 125, or by email: