JOURNALISTS IN SOUTH CAROLINA are carefully looking a court hearing this morning in which a decision may want to send a polarizing political blogger to jail after he refused a court order to identify exclusive resources.
The blogger is Will Folks, a political consultant who was a controversial spokesman for former Gov. Mark Sanford earlier than he started out FITSnews.Com and who made headlines in 2010 for claiming he had a “beside the point bodily courting” with Sanford’s successor, Nikki Haley, now the US ambassador to the United Nations.
On his popular politics, sports, and way of life blog, Folks—a self-styled libertarian horrific boy of Palmetto State politics—frequently rips politicians and traditional media. He additionally breaks news, is predicated on unnamed resources, editorializes, and gets worried in elections.
In 2015, Folks earned himself a defamation healthy from a former lawmaker named Kenny Bingham. The ex-pol sued Folks and his web page after multiple posts appeared on FITSnews mentioning Bingham become the problem of an ethics criticism. One story claimed “insiders” on the statehouse once believed an indictment in opposition to Bingham “could be issued.” (Bingham has no longer been indicted.)
I am honor certain, now not as a reporter but as a human being, to keep my phrase. So that’s what I’ve completed, that’s what I’m going to do, and if I need to go to prison because of that, that’s excellent, I’ll try this.
Folks’ libel case took a strange twist last fall while a judge instructed him he would become aware of the unnamed assets for his Bingham testimonies if asked to do so throughout a deposition. Folks brazenly declined to achieve this, pronouncing he would now not rat out a source. Bingham’s legal professional, John E. Parker, filed a motion to preserve Folks in contempt.
Today, the blogger faces the consequences in a Lexington County court.
Folks says at the request of his lawyers, he requested his sources if they would waive confidentiality, and they declined. “As a result of that, I am honor bound, not as a reporter however as a person, to hold my word,” Folks told CJR on Monday. “So that’s what I’ve performed, that’s what I’m going to do, and if I should go to prison due to that, that’s best, I’ll do this.”
When I first wrote approximately Folks in January, his case had attracted little press attention. At the time, I referred to that his case “imposed an uneasy feeling throughout South Carolina’s journalistic landscape, which hasn’t exactly embraced Folks.” South Carolina Press Association director Bill Rogers wouldn’t remark approximately it. When I requested the clicking organization’s attorney, Taylor Smith, if he could don’t forget the case a press freedom problem, he knew as it an “interesting query.” Except for brief blurbs published whilst the lawsuit changed into filed, the case hadn’t acquired lots insurance until this week.
Now, although, “it’s being watched with a problem,” Rogers advised me Monday. He brought that he helps Folks and fears a ruling against the blogger could have a chilling impact on each source and newshounds in South Carolina. A statehouse corruption probe is currently roiling Columbia, and contributors of the clicking corps have relied heavily on unnamed resources in their coverage.
The Palmetto State has a reporter’s guard law, but it does now not follow to a journalist who’s party to a city in shape. Rogers issues that a ruling against Folks may want to enable a brand new danger in opposition to the press: civil libel suits filed by story topics to uncover nameless sources who speak about them to reporters.
While Will might not be ‘my kind’ of journalist…Will is a journalist, by means of definition, and I respect him for refusing to surrender his sources underneath strain.
I asked Rogers if the press association is getting involved within the Folks court action. “I referred to as him and wanted him luck. That’s about all we are able to do properly now,” he told me. If there’s an attraction, Rogers expects the press association will file a pal-of-the-court docket brief.
Folks’ unlikely role as a potential martyr for press freedom appears readymade for eye-rolls in certain components of South Carolina. Sometimes Folks calls himself a journalist; different instances he doesn’t.
“He’s no longer going to be defined as a traditional journalist, but he does journalism,” Rogers says of Folks. “And I assume [what’s happening to him] might be very effortlessly expandable to the contributors of the clicking association. So we’re watching.”
Meg Kinnard, a politics and criminal affairs reporter for the Associated Press in South Carolina, published on Facebook that she helps the blogger. Folks, she said, occupies a completely unique niche in national news and politics.
“While Will might not be ‘my type’ of a journalist, and FITSNews might not constantly be ‘my kind’ of journalism, Will is a journalist, by way of definition, and I recognize him for refusing to surrender his resources underneath stress,” she wrote.
A current felony motion from Folks’ attorney, a current Republican nation senator named Tom Davis, is replete with references to how reporters interact with exclusive resources. Folks, Davis argued, is “conforming to an accepted and respected code of journalistic ethics,” and outing his sources would harm the blogger’s capacity to achieve and file statistics. Folks didn’t comply with the judge’s order, Davis wrote, with the intention to “avoid a breach of journalistic ethics and legal responsibility for breach of contract.”
Reporters in South Carolina have previously been threatened with—and in a few instances received—jail time for not giving up statistics. In the Nineteen Nineties, four reporters covering a nation authorities corruption scandal spent approximately 8 hours over days within the pen after they refused to testify in a court case. They have been released while it became clear they wouldn’t change their minds. A reporter in a famous case concerning Susan Smith, who became convicted of drowning her kids in a South Carolina lake, confronted prison for no longer revealing a source to the judge if so. The reporter instructed the choose she had “an agreement with the source not to show their identity.” In 2013, a South Carolina political blogger who changed into sued for libel did screen unnamed sources as a part of a settlement.
Jay Bender, the nation’s preeminent First Amendment attorney, says he sees Folks’ case as a manner for a lawmaker to intervene with the blogger and his assets.
“In the one’s circumstances the Supreme Court of America has advised there must be a constitutional protection for the reporter,” Bender says.