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Home > SPJ News > SPJ condemns military subpoena in Air Force rape story

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SPJ condemns military subpoena in Air Force rape story


12/3/2004


CONTACT:
Irwin L. Gratz
, President, 207/874-6570 or igratz@spj.org

Charles N. Davis, Ph.D., Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chair, 573/882-5736 or daviscn@missouri.edu



INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists supports The Denver Post and its reporter, Miles Moffeit, in resisting a military court subpoena for notes taken by Moffeit about an alleged gang rape of an 18-year-old woman at an Air Force base.

The military's subpoena comes amidst an unprecedented wave of legal intimidation of the press. Nearly a dozen different journalists across the country face subpoenas from prosecutors seeking a wide range of journalistic work product. Unlike other journalists who have defied subpoenas recently, Moffeit is not protecting a high-level government source or someone accused of a serious crime. He's protecting Leah Kaelin, an 18-year-old woman who says she was gang-raped at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas by four fellow airmen in June 2003.

The case is believed to be one of only a handful in which the military has sought a reporter's unpublished material, the Post said. In most cases, military courts have ruled such material is protected from disclosure.

Moffeit wrote in March that a woman said she was gang-raped in June 2003 by four fellow airmen stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base at Wichita Falls, Texas. Matthew Monroe has been charged in connection with the rape and faces a general court-martial.

Earlier this month, a judge advocate for the Air Force demanded on behalf of Monroe that all "notes, memoranda, videotapes, audiotapes and any other information and documents" gathered by Moffeit be turned over to the Air Force.

The Post refused the request, citing protection under the First Amendment. A hearing in Texas is tentatively scheduled for next week.

The newspaper's attorneys, Tom Kelley and Steve Zansberg, filed a motion Tuesday calling the request a "blatant fishing expedition" by the defense.

"The press cannot credibly report on public affairs with using (only)'on-the-record' sources...The trust that is essential to establishing and maintaining relationships with such sources is compromised if the source believes she may be speaking to a witness in a court proceeding," they wrote.

They also argued that Moffeit had no direct evidence related to the charge and that the same material was given to others.

"It's difficult enough for a rape victim to come forward, especially military women who have, essentially, no privacy rights," Moffeit told the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma. "If the government succeeds in prying open reporters' notebooks, other victims will be too fear-stricken to come forward."

SPJ agrees, and urges the military to drop this unwise and unproductive assault on a journalist who possesses no firsthand knowledge of the crime at issue. Legally compelling a reporter who interviewed an alleged victim of sexual assault doubtless will silence future victims, who rely upon a free press to hold the powerful accountable.

"It is worth remembering that were it not for Mr. Moffeit's sensitive and emotionally powerful reportage, this sorry tale might never have come to light," said Charles N. Davis, executive director of the University of Missouri School of Journalism's Freedom of Information Center and co-chair of SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee.

After Kaelin reported the assault, in June 2003, she endured
intimidation and ridicule from her peers and commanders, and she was forced to accept a discharge from the Air Force. By the time military investigators had finally processed Kaelin's forensic analysis - the results of which appeared to confirm her allegations - eight months had passed.

"It's really beginning to look like open season on reporters," said SPJ President Irwin Gratz, Morning Edition Producer for Maine Public Radio.

"Prosecutors need to remember that a lot of information about crime will never come to light if people see reporters as simply another long arm of the law."


The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

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