A judge ordered a Washington Post reporter to jail Wednesday for refusing to identify a confidential source, but she earned a reprieve within hours from an appeals court.
Superior Court Judge Richard Levie ruled Linda Wheeler had waived the limited First Amendment protection that reporters have against being forced to disclose sources when she identified her source for information about a scheduled narcotics raid in conversations at home with her husband, and later with another person.But Levie immediately granted Wheeler a one-hour stay, and Post attorneys immediately appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals. That panel said Wheeler could remain free until it finished work on the matter.
Earlier, Levie had indicated the veteran Post reporter could be in jail for the length of the trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks.
"What's at stake here for Americans is the potential chilling effect for reporters and their sources," said her managing editor, Leonard Downie, one of several Post officials, including executive editor Ben Bradlee, who were at the court hearing.
Wheeler has said she remembers no such conversations, and in court Wednesday, she once again refused to reveal her source.
Wheeler's husband, Hugh Irwin, who was ordered to testify last week by Levie, had testified that his wife had told him city Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. had given her confidential details of the 1986 drug raid, which turned out to be a flop.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by six white police officers who contend that Fulwood, who is black, unfairly disciplined them after the undercover drug raid failed.