- Subject: Free Vanessa!
- From: Carol Holst <kceh@AIRMAIL.NET>
- Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2001 07:48:44 -0500
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
Dear Ms. Leggett:
As one who's earned his keep writing journalism since 1974, I want to
for the integrity and honor you bring to our profession. In a time
when journalism is
often practiced and marketed as a form of entertainment, you stand as
a reminder and
exemplar of the bedrock ethic that gives journalism its claim on the
attention: the freedom to learn and express the truth as you see it,
on any subject
whatsoever, without the interference of any governmental authority
whatsoever -- a
freedom that should be limited only by the necessity of getting the
Your situation as I understand it is this:
You were collecting material for a book on the 1997 murder of Doris
Houston, the wife of Robert Angelton, whom The New York Times
describes as "a
millionaire former bookie." Robert Angelton and his brother Roger
with the crime. State prosecutors said Robert hired Roger to kill
Doris to stop her
from receiving millions in their divorce settlement. While awaiting
committed suicide in jail in 1998, leaving notes confessing the
murder of his
sister-in-law, and claiming he planned the killing alone to frame his
extort money from him. You had interviewed Roger Angelton in jail.
cooperated with local and federal authorities to the extent of giving
them your tapes
of those interviews. But when they, through a grand jury, subpoenaed
and all copies of your notes, you refused in order to protect
confidential sources. On
July 20 you were arrested in Houston for contempt of court and jailed
It's possible that you may spend 18 months incarcerated if you
continue to refuse or
if the court's ruling isn't overturned. On August 18, in an unsigned
federal appeals court declined to overturn the ruling.
The people who arrested you claim you're not a journalist, because
you've not yet
published any journalism and don't yet have a publisher for your
book. They say
you're not protected by laws that shield reporters from judicial
inquiry. The court
statement denying your appeal reads in part: "Even assuming that
Leggett, a virtually
unpublished freelance writer, operating without an employer or a
publication, qualifies as a journalist under the law ..."
That statement threatens the liberty of every citizen. The phrase
means this court won't admit straightforwardly that you're a
journalist. Their stated
reason: You haven't made a business arrangement. The act of
is discounted. In this court's eyes, it's not a legitimate act
without a business
arrangement. In other words, it's an issue of money. If you're not
getting paid for
it, you're not a journalist.
That's not only ludicrous, it's dangerous. A New York Times editorial
behalf put it well: "Integral to our freedom of the press is the
notion that the First
Amendment protects those who are engaged in journalism, not those
journalists by the government. If the government refuses to recognize
freelancer as a real journalist, it may next decree that someone who
works for a
small newspaper also fails to make the grade." If the government gets
to say who is
and who's not a journalist, anyone can fail to make the grade. Money
employment) is the standard being used against you. Once that
precedent is set,
other standards can be substituted: decency (in the court's eyes),
(government licensing), loyalty (as the government defines it) -- or
demand a college degree, which would disqualify me. I figured I'd
learn more about
writing by hitting the road than by staying in college, and I've
never regretted it.
Questioned about this by an interviewer, I told him, "You need a
license to drive,
you don't need a license to think."
The appeals court might take a refresher course, though, to learn
that the word
"journalism" is founded on "journal," rooted in the French jour
meaning "day" and
journal meaning "daily." The original English usage of journalist
meant: one who
keeps a journal, a record of the day. The words "profession" and
based on "profess." Fundamental to the idea of being a professional
is an act of
speech and conviction. My dictionary defines profess as "to declare
openly." Its first definition of professional is "an open declaration
or avowal of a
belief or opinion."
Thus, Ms. Leggett, by any reasonable standard, you are a professional
You sought to keep a record of the day: a factual account of how and
human being might murder another. In a country with history's highest
this is certainly a legitimate subject of investigation. And you're
standards of your profession: Without endangering the public safety
in the least,
you're keeping your promise to your sources that they can speak
freely without fear
of undue exposure. That's why more than a dozen news organizations,
Associated Press and The New York Times Company, have filed briefs on
behalf. That your fellow journalists are rallying to your cause
should be proof
enough that you are a journalist -- though in a country as free as
ours claims to be,
even this proof should not be necessary.
You were quoted in The Los Angeles Times as saying, "The government
monopoly on information, and I think I'm, in their eyes, in violation
information with the intent to distribute it to the public."
Before anyone concludes that your statement is extreme, or that the
action against you is an isolated case and shouldn't cause general
should be paid to a bill before the Senate Intelligence Committee,
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. The bill would make it a criminal
disclose, without authorization, any type of classified information
-- which might
seem reasonable on the surface, except that it includes no standard
constitutes classified information. Under this bill any federal
agency could classify
anything they want to hide; and any disclosure of such "classified"
information by a
government employee would be a federal crime. The bill's supporters
journalists couldn't be prosecuted under their law. To which Thomas
director of the National Security Archive, replied in The New York
when the government prosecutes employees who leak information, who
called, under penalty of perjury, as the only witnesses to the crime?
Where will they find the evidence of the crime? In the press."
Last year Bill Clinton vetoed virtually the same bill. This year, the
Democrats on the
Senate Intelligence Committee might show some spine and shelve the
bill. If they
don't, there may be some senator with enough courage to filibuster
the bill to death.
But if there isn't -- George W. Bush will sign it into law. If it
becomes law, the
Supreme Court who finagled his election may uphold it. If they do,
Amendment will have been seriously subverted, and the federal
have the right by law to do what it's often attempted outside the
law: hide anything it
doesn't want us to know.
So you're not exaggerating, Ms. Leggett. Forces within our government
attempting, insidiously, to achieve a monopoly on information.
I suspect you know the First Amendment by heart, but to refresh our
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the
right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a
redress of grievances."
The intent could not be any clearer: no law may abridge freedom of
speech or of the
Houston's prosecutors are trying to make an exception and an example,
of you; if
they can do it to you, they and their kind will try to do it to
others. Meanwhile, some
Senate Republicans are trying to nullify the First Amendment itself.
A recent poll reported that a majority of Americans think the First
too far. They think their own constitution is too radical. They're
uneasy with the fact
that it was written by revolutionaries -- so radical, so
revolutionary, and of such
integrity, that those Founders imposed limits upon the very power
they'd won. They
meant for their descendants to cope with their revolutionary ideals,
like it or not.
Many don't. Yet there are still some willing to go to the wall for
the 45 precious
words of that amendment.
You, Vanessa Leggett, are exactly the kind of descendant the Founders
I've professed journalism -- the keeping of the record of my day, in
my own way --
for 27 years. I've had death threats, swastikas painted on my car,
that sort of thing
... but I've never been tested as you're being tested. With every
mistake and contradiction I could manage, I've tried to walk my talk
... but I've
never been called to do what you're doing.
So I don't consider you a novice -- as even the sympathetic reports
call you. In
making your stand, you're way ahead of where most of us have been.
this letter to offer my gratitude and my solidarity. The reason all
news organizations are getting behind you is that you've reminded
them of who they
are and what they're for. And reminded me.
Don't let any bastards ever let you feel you're not the real deal.
Your colleague in the profession,
To unsubscribe from the ARN-L list, send command SIGNOFF ARN-L
Post a Message to arn-l: