Audrey Hudson, a former Vail Daily reporter and the current Washington Correspondent for The Colorado Observer, had her Maryland house raided by Homeland Security, federal marshals, and the Maryland State Police. The federal agents, one of whom identified himself as a former air marshal, sifted through boxes and boxes of notes, and asked if she was the same reporter who wrote a series of stories for The Washington Times exposing the air marshals program for inflating its numbers.
The agents also took some of Hudson’s notes claiming that they would verify whether it was “legitimate” for her to have her own notes. The Washington Times is responding with legal action, according to its editor John Solomon:
“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter. This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work. Homeland’s conduct in seizing privileged reporters notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response.”
While the raid happened in August, she explains to the Vail Daily why she decided now to go public:
“The raid happened in early August and Hudson said she didn’t learn until September that the government had her notes, because officials had them listed in their inventory under “miscellaneous documents.” Those notes contained the names of some of her anonymous sources in the federal government. Bosch turned her anonymous sources over to the TSA, the agency they’d blown the whistle on, Hudson said.”
The rights of journalists to maintain the anonymity of sources has been a hotly-debated issue in the news reporting industry, particularly here in Colorado throughout the Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes trial. Fox News reporter Jana Winter recently lost her court battle in an effort to protect the confidential sources that she used for a story about Holmes. Winter may be forced to reveal the names of her sources or go to jail, according to The Denver Post.
Reporter shield laws are intended to protect the identity of sources to prevent retribution or punishment for sources who bring important information to light.
These high-profile assaults on journalists should cause concern among all Americans about the erosion of our freedom of the press, a cornerstone of our democracy.