Cameron McWhirter, one of the Cincinnati Enquirer reporters involved in the paper’s now-infamous investigation into Chiquita, writes 10 years later for Columbia Journalism Review that he still won’t discuss his anonymous sources for the series.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the Enquirer ended up running a front-page apology to Chiquita after the story ran because Mike Gallagher, the other reporter involved, apparently illegally tapped into the company’s voice mail message system.
McWhirter writes, “In my final showdown meeting with the special prosecutor, I wasnâ€™t sure what he would do. I had resolved that it didnâ€™t matter; I would stand by the journalistic principle of source confidentiality. I remember the moment: I held firm; the prosecutor stared at my face for a while, then shrugged. To my surprise, he backed down. He had threatened me for weeks, but this last meeting ended with a whimper. I signed a revamped document, which simply required me to tell the truth while maintaining the shield lawâ€”something I had done all along.
“A few months later, a new special prosecutor (the county let the previous one go) assured me in a brief meeting that he wouldnâ€™t challenge my right to the shield law. I took the witness stand once in a preliminary hearing in April 1999. I testified that an individual at one point had offered the Enquirer access codes to Chiquitaâ€™s voicemail, and I had given the information to Gallagher, since I wasnâ€™t sure what we could do with it. I testified that Gallagher told me that an unnamed source had already provided him with the codes, and also that Gannett lawyers and editors had instructed him numerous times not to access Chiquitaâ€™s voicemail after he admitted he had briefly done so. No one asked me to identify anyone, and within minutes my involvement in any criminal proceedings was over.”
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