Paging China! Help us! Urge the U.S. government to respect freedom of the press!
It does sound topsy-turvy, doesn't it? Generally, it's China and Zimbabwe that are throwing journalists in prison, while the U.S. denounces the repression over there.
But now similar abuses are about to unfold within the United States, part of an alarming new pattern of assault on American freedom of the press. In the last few months, three different U.S. federal judges, each appointed by President Ronald Reagan, have found a total of eight journalists in contempt of court for refusing to reveal confidential sources, and the first of them may go to prison before the year is out. Some of the rest may be in prison by spring.
The first reporter likely to go to jail is Jim Taricani, a television reporter for the NBC station in Providence, R.I. Mr. Taricani obtained and broadcast, completely legally, a videotape of a city official as he accepted an envelope full of cash.
U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres found Mr. Taricani in contempt for refusing to identify the person he got the videotape from, and the judge fined him $1,000 a day. That hasn't broken Mr. Taricani, so Judge Torres has set a hearing for Nov. 18 to decide whether to squeeze him further by throwing him in jail.
Even thoush Ashcroft is leaving - the damage seems to have been done already.