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Reporter Gets House Arrest for Not Revealing Source

BY Admin  December 9, 2004 at 5:49 PM EDT

Investigative journalist Jim Taricani, 55, could have received up to six months in federal prison after a federal judge convicted him last month of criminal contempt for defying a court order to identify his source. Taricani’s lawyers had argued that he had promised to protect his source’s identity.

Taricani, who has a transplanted heart, had asked for less than 30 days of home confinement because of his health problems. U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres granted the prosecutors’ request for six months of confinement at home.

Taricani is one of several journalists nationwide who has been battling with the government to keep their sources confidential. New York Times correspondent Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper appeared in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to challenge contempt of court convictions for refusing to name their sources related in the federal investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s name.

In Taricani’s case, the FBI tape was part of a corruption probe that eventually sent city officials, including Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, to federal prison.

Taricani broke no law by airing the tape on local TV, but lawyers, investigators and defendants were under court order not to disseminate any materials connected to the probe, and a special prosecutor had been appointed to find out who leaked the tape, the Associated Press reported.

After a three-year investigation failed to locate the source, Torres held Taricani in civil contempt and began fining him $1,000 a day to compel him to reveal the source. Taricani refused, saying he had an obligation to his source, and ran up $85,000 in fines, paid by his employer, NBC-affiliated WJR, before the judge turned up the pressure by charging him with criminal contempt, the AP reported.

The reporter called his Nov. 18 criminal contempt verdict an “assault on journalistic freedom.”

Less than a week after Taricani’s contempt conviction, a defense lawyer, Joseph Bevilacqua Jr., came forward and admitted he was the person who gave Taricani the FBI surveillance videotape.

Bevilacqua has said that he never required Taricani to withhold his identity and that Taricani asked him not to come forward, but Taricani maintains that Bevilacqua repeatedly insisted that his identity be kept confidential in numerous conversations during the last three years.