PHILADELPHIA -- A former USA Today reporter facing fines for failing to reveal her sources for stories about the 2001 anthrax attacks said Saturday that news organizations need to go on the offensive in the fight to protect the First Amendment."
As we all know, the news business is on a collective nervous breakdown," Toni Locy told a coalition of open-government and press groups. "It's time to stop running. It's time to turn and fight. If we don't fight for the First Amendment, who will?"
Locy, who now teaches journalism at West Virginia University, spoke at the annual convention of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
She said the country needs a shield law that would protect reporters from having to reveal their sources.
"The First Amendment needs some help," she said. "In this environment that we're in now, it needs some help."
Locy is appealing an order from U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton that requires her to pay as much as $5,000 a day until she gives up her sources for stories about the government's investigation of the anthrax attacks.
The order comes as Locy has been drawn into a lawsuit by former Army scientist Steven Hatfill, who came under FBI scrutiny after the attacks. Hatfill accuses the government of violating his privacy by talking to reporters.
After the attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill "a person of interest" in the investigation, and stories by various reporters, including Locy, followed. Hatfill had worked at the Army's infectious diseases laboratory from 1997 to 1999.
No one was ever charged in the anthrax attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17 others, and the case remains unsolved.
"I was fair; I was accurate; I was skeptical," said Locy, who has also worked for The Associated Press and other news organizations.
On Friday, judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit questioned whether Walton's order went too far and whether Hatfill really needs the information, since his attorneys have asked for a trial date.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition, based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is an alliance of state and regional freedom-of-information organizations, academic centers, and other groups focusing on issues related to the First Amendment.
© 2008 Associated Press