CBS appears to have largely extricated itself from the affair. Last May, it quashed an effort by Mr. Hatfill’s lawyers to subpoena CBS Broadcasting Inc. A CBS spokesperson declined to comment on the case.
The case has some parallels to that of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, a former government scientist at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory who had been accused of sharing classified nuclear information with China, and who subsequently sued the federal government under the Privacy Act. In the suit, Mr. Lee’s lawyers similarly subpoenaed six reporters, seeking the identities of their confidential sources in the government. The judge in the case ordered the reporters to testify, but the case came to an end before they did so when Mr. Lee settled with the government.
In Off the Record: The Press, the Government, and the War over Anonymous Sources, Mr. Pearlstine wrote that the Wen Ho Lee settlement would encourage “plaintiffs in other Privacy Act lawsuits against the government to seek testimony from the media whenever leaks from confidential sources are involved.”
And to some media-rights advocates, that appears to have happened, creating concern about reporters’ ongoing ability to credibly promise confidentiality to sources. “The [Privacy] Act was intended to cover such private information as medical data, psychiatric history and employment details,” Sandra Baron of the Media Law Resource Center told NYTV. “To the extent that this would mean that someone who is a suspect in an investigation can’t be reported on, I think that’s outrageous and unacceptable.” Ms. Baron called the pressure put on reporters to give up their confidential sources “a very ugly and very invasive side effect of these Privacy Act claims.”
Whether Mr. Stewart will become the next poster child for the cause depends, for now, on Judge Walton.