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Reporters Sentenced to Prison for Withholding Sources

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Reporters Sentenced to Prison for Withholding Sources

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Reporters Sentenced to Prison for Withholding Sources

Reporters Sentenced to Prison for Withholding Sources

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A federal judge has sentenced two San Francisco Chronicle reporters to prison for up to 18 months, unless they reveal who leaked grand jury testimony from the BALCO steroids scandal. The reporters remain free while the ruling is appealed.

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Two reporters who broke the big story about Barry Bonds, BALCO and steroids may be heading to jail soon. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams broke the story in the San Francisco Chronicle. They are also familiar to NPR listeners as guests on this program.

Yesterday they were sentenced to 18 months in jail for refusing to give up their sources. That means the reporters could wind up doing more time than the main offenders in the BALCO case.

NPR's John McChesney reports.

JOHN McCHESNEY: Federal Judge Jeffrey White acknowledged that this case involves a very difficult area of the law, a collision between the First Amendment and the secrecy of grand jury proceedings. The two journalists had access to transcripts of grand jury testimony from athletes about steroid supplied by BALCO.

The story the reporters told captured national attention because of the involvement of Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who said he had used substances provided by BALCO but didn't know they were performance-enhancing. Judge White said he had little latitude on the case, even as he praised the reporters.

The journalists will remain free pending an appeal. Lance Williams spoke outside after the decision.

Mr. LANCE WILLIAMS (Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle): I'm very worried about our First Amendment, our free press, if we go very far down that road. I hope we don't go too far because the people would be far less informed and far worse off if they don't have an independent source of information about their government.

McCHESNEY: In April of 2005, President Bush told the reporters they had done a service. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who approved the subpoenas, said the benefits resulting from the stories didn't outweigh the need to protect the secrecy of grand jury testimony.

John McChesney, NPR News, San Francisco.

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