REPORTER SENTENCED OVER NAME OF SOURCE
December 10, 2004
A TV reporter was sentenced yesterday to six months of home confinement for refusing to say who leaked him an FBI videotape of a politician taking a bribe.
Jim Taricani, 55, was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for defying U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres' order to identify his source and could have gotten up to six months in prison.
The judge went along with the punishment recommended by prosecutors, saying the only reason he did not send Taricani to prison was the reporter's precarious health: Taricani had a heart transplant in 1996 and takes medication daily to prevent organ rejection.
Taricani is one of several journalists nationwide who have become locked in First Amendment battles with the government over confidential sources. Among them are reporters for Time and The New York Times who have been threatened with jail as part of an investigation into the disclosure of an undercover CIA officer's identity.
Less than a week after Taricani was convicted, Providence defense attorney Joseph Bevilacqua Jr. came forward and admitted he was the one who leaked the tape. But under the law, that did not get the reporter off the hook.
In sentencing Taricani, the judge said the WJAR reporter had no First Amendment right to protect a source who broke the law by providing him with information. He disputed arguments that punishing Taricani's behavior was an assault on the First Amendment.
Taricani told the judge he acted in accordance with his principles, and understood he had to accept punishment. "Your honor, I want you to know that I do not consider myself above the law," he said.
The FBI tape of a mayoral aide taking a $1,000 payoff was part of a corruption investigation that ultimately sent former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci and other city officials to federal prison.
Taricani broke no law by airing the footage, but attorneys, investigators and defendants were under court order not to release any tapes connected to the investigation, and a special prosecutor had been appointed to find out who leaked it.