Judge: New York Times reporter waived press shield privilege

The New York Law Journal reports (subscription required):

A New York Times reporter must testify in an emotional-distress case regarding an interview he conducted with the defendant, the Riverside Church’s controversial leader, the Reverend James A. Forbes Jr., a Manhattan judge has ruled.

Reporter Daniel Wakin waived any exemption he may have enjoyed under New York’s Shield Law when he “voluntarily informed plaintiff of the specific information” he had heard while interviewing Reverend Forbes, Supreme Court Justice Walter B. Tolub held in Guice-Mills v. Forbes, [index number] 124635/02.

Disclosure of otherwise privileged material frequently vitiates the privilege, because you’ve already told the information you seek to someone not covered by the privilege, presumably for your own benefit; why then should you be able to claim the privilege for your benefit (as opposed to that of your source) as well?

The court gives the usual salute to the vital importance of press shield laws in protecting the First Amendment, stating that without it, why, you could be required to testify — just like a regular human being who knows something that could be important to someone else’s well being. Can’t have that. You’re a journalist!  No, I don’t like press shield laws. But here at least the court wisely prevented an abuse of one.

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Author:Ron Coleman

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