Defending the First Amendment
and protecting confidential sources
PAYING ATTENTION! with Tom Duggan
By: Tom Duggan, November, 2008
The most important function a newspaper or media outlet can perform is to serve as a watchdog for the way taxpayer’s dollars are spent in their community and expose information that public officials and those who do business with them conspire to conceal.
As such, one of the most critical tools any journalist has in gathering information for such news stories is the ability to rely on confidential sources who would otherwise never come forward fearing political retribution or even physical harm for leaking such information to the press.
The use of such sources are a tool of the trade which enables the media to shine a bright light on public corruption, backroom political deal-making and outright lying by public officials whether they be local or national political figures.
Without confidential sources, the public would never have learned about Watergate, Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson’s role in concealing Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons programs, or police corruption in big cities going back two hundred years.
But, remaining anonymous as a confidential source is not a legal right nor is it an absolute privilege. There is no ethics board for journalists dictating a reporter’s conduct in dealing with a confidential source. How, and in what manner a reporter deals with such sources is solely up to the reporters themselves or the newspaper they work for.
In my ten year as a journalist, I have never had to reveal the name of a confidential source. Now, someone who is a confidential source himself has put me in a position where I have no choice, because that source has filed a lawsuit demanding that I reveal other confidential sources in different story.
You see, last January, Lawrence’s workers’ compensation attorney William DiAdamo gave us privileged information about a settlement between the city and former Assistant City Clerk Jennifer Padellaro. Padellaro had sued the city after the Jim McGravey/Patrick Blanchette sex and pornography scandal (and cover up) that lead to McGravey’s abrupt resignation and Blanchette targeting Padellaro for retribution for coming forward against his friend.
Even though I had to deal with an onslaught of requests by Assistant City Attorney Richard D’Agastino to reveal the “leak” in the Padellaro settlement story (as well as other city matters), I protected DiAdamo at every turn. After all, DiAdamo was not only our source in the Padellaro/McGravey story, but had fed us information about other cases as well. Why would I want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs?
Besides, as a reporter I certainly do not want to send the message to future, potential sources that they have to worry about their identity being revealed as soon as someone applies a little political or legal pressure.
Now, even though I went to the mat for DiAdamo when he gave us a privileged news story, DiAdamo has filed a lawsuit against this newspaper (and me personally) to force us to reveal our sources in a story that involved him.
Imagine the nerve?
Now imagine the irony … all the while Attorney DiAdamo enjoys the protection of The Valley Patriot as a confidential source, he is using the court system to try and strip away that protection from others. Talk about a lapse of ethics and judgement. I firmly believe that anyone who enjoys the protections of this newspaper as a confidential source should never have to wonder or worry if their identity will be revealed. But when a confidential source himself violates the spirit of the very system he is protected by, then he has lost the privilege of continuing to remain anonymous.
I am baffled as to why an Attorney who has so much to lose would declare war on me or this newspaper given the substantial amount of information available that could result in serous legal trouble for him and his law office.
Yet he has.
And while this is not a fight that I or the board of The Valley Patriot wanted, it is not a fight we will run away from either.
Just imagine, the Diadamo Law office and Trust which made millions (MILLIONS!) of dollars on the public trough is now feverishly trying to silence the free speech of those who own and those who contribute to our newspaper and demanding payment for our refusal to do so. We will not be intimidated or bullied into silence by those who make millions of dollars from the taxpayers coffers. We will continue to ask questions and investigate the web of actions involving the DiAdamo Law Office (and Trust) and the taxpayer’s dollars they receive as rent and fees.
Now that the cat is out of the bag and DiAdamo is pushing for a public trial we must now spend thousands of dollars to prepare for and fight this suit. But we can’t do it alone. As everyone knows, whether you win or lose a lawsuit, the cost of fighting one can financially cripple any person or business. And since we are going up against a law office that has unlimited resources to fight this battle we must now raise funds to protect our sources and our newspaper. That’s why we have set up the Valley Patriot Legal Defense Fund and will be scheduling fundraisers to offset the legal and court costs associated with fighting lawsuits like this. And we could certainly use your help. When any news entity, especially small local newspapers are forced to spend enormous amounts of money fighting prolonged legal battles, there is a real danger that such a small newspaper may eventually become unable to absorb those costs.
So, this is how you can help: If you believe in the first amendment and the right of free speech: the right of journalists to protect their sources, or if you believe that the Valley Patriot has provided a legitimate public service by breaking news stories and giving people in the community a voice when other media outlets refuse to do so; if you appreciate the role we have played in providing a vehicle by which information and ideas can be expressed and debated, I would ask you to make a donation of any amount to The Valley Patriot Legal Defense Fund.
You can mail your check to PO BOX 453, North Andover MA 01843. Or you can donate on-line with a credit card by visiting the Valley Patriot website at valleypatriot.com and clicking the paypal icon. Stand up for free speech and a free press and help us continue to expose government waste and corruption, the taxpayers dollars we save could be your own.