NEW YORK -In one of the most serious legal clashes between the media and the government in three decades, Time magazine agreed to comply with a court order to turn over the notes of a reporter threatened with jail for refusing to identify a source.
Time”s decision broke ranks with The New York Times, which also has a reporter facing jail for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the unmasking of a CIA operative.
In a statement, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. said: "We are deeply disappointed by Time Inc.”s decision to deliver the subpoenaed records." He noted that one of its reporters served 40 days in jail in 1978 in a similar dispute.
"Our focus is now on our reporter, Judith Miller, and supporting her during this difficult time," Sulzberger said.
Time relented just days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from its White House correspondent Matt Cooper and the Times” Miller, who have been locked in an eight-month battle with the government to protect their sources.
The magazine said the high court”s action will have "a chilling effect" on journalists” work but that Time had no choice but to comply.
"The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts," Time said in a statement.
The case is among the most serious legal clashes between the media and the government since the Supreme Court in 1971 refused to stop the Times and The Washington Post from publishing a classified history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers.
Representatives for Cooper and Miller said they believe that the turning over of the notes and other material would eliminate the need for either reporter to testify before a grand jury and remove any justification for jailing them.
A special counsel is investigating who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, a possible federal crime. U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan is threatening to jail Cooper and Miller for refusing to reveal their sources.
They are due back in Hogan”s court next week for further arguments on whether they should be thrown in jail. The grand jury investigating the leak expires in October, and the journalists, if jailed, would be freed at that time.
Miller has not changed her position on refusing to disclose her sources, said her attorney, Robert Bennett. She was not available for comment, the newspaper said.
Cooper”s attorney, Richard Sauber, did not immediately return a call for comment. Cooper, through a representative, declined to comment.
Outside court on Wednesday, Cooper said that he hoped the magazine would not turn over the documents requested by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago who has been heading the grand jury probe into who disclosed Plame”s identity days after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly disparaged the president”s case for invading Iraq.
Time is a defendant in the case along with the two reporters. The New York Times itself is not a defendant because it did not publish anything. Miller did some reporting but did not write a story, while Cooper wrote a story about Plame.
Plame”s name was first published in a 2003 column by Robert Novak, who cited two unidentified senior Bush administration officials as his sources. Novak has refused to say whether he has testified or been subpoenaed.
Time Inc.”s editor in chief, Norman Pearlstine, said the company would turn over all records, notes and e-mail traffic over the company”s system concerning the case.
"The court concluded that a citizen”s duty to testify before a grand jury takes precedence over the First Amendment," Pearlstine said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I do not agree with that, but I have to follow the laws like every other citizen."
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have shield laws protecting reporters from having to identify their confidential sources. Legislation to establish such protection under federal law has been introduced in Congress.
"The Supreme Court has limited press freedom in ways that will have a chilling effect on our work and that may damage the free flow of information that is so necessary in a democratic society," Pearlstine said.