Freedoms In Conflict

The right to a free press and the right to a fair trial, both constitutional guarantees, can be brought into uncomfortable and precarious conflict when courts try to balance them. CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, Jasper, Texas, is just the latest place where this balancing act is being played out.


Jim Goodale, a Constitutional expert, puts the problem this way: "What do you want to have? Do you want a press that's the captive of the court system -- the prosecutor's captive? Or do want to have a press that's free to publish and gather information for all of us?"

Guy James Gray, a prosecutor in the Texas dragging murder trial, believes that the outtakes from a 60 Minutes II interview with Shawn Berry isn't privileged information. "This is not a source a newsman should protect," he says. "This is information a jury ought to know."

Reporters and news organizations routinely resist turning over notes and outtakes to judges, defense lawyers, police and prosecutors.

"In Texas, prosecutors are resorting to transforming the news media into an agent for the state...in conducting prosecutions," says attorney Paul Watler. "It's an easy way for the state to get evidence when they haven't done their own work."

Thirty states and Washington, D.C. have laws that allow reporters to shield their sources and notes from legal authorities. Texas is not one of them.

"Reporters have had to go to jail in the past to convince states to enact shield laws," says Myron Farber of The New York Times.

In 1978, Farber was locked up for refusing to disclose who told him about a doctor accused of killing patients.

"I knew where I stood," he said. "And I earnestly hope that other reporters would, if the situation were the same, do the same, on behalf of their profession and the public it serves."

A lot of journalists feel as strongly as Farber. Reporters often bump up against the authorities. And judges and legislatures have to referee between two basic freedoms that sometimes compete.

For more about the Jasper trial, click here.