THEY TURNED the corner of Larkin and Golden Gate, and for a few surreal seconds San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams felt a surge of appreciation not unlike what Barry Bonds experiences each time he rounds third base after hitting a towering homer at nearby AT&T Park. More than 50 journalists from across the country, some wearing T-shirts reading SPORTSWRITERS FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, stood outside the Federal Building in downtown San Francisco last Thursday to support the men whose investigative reporting helped expose the BALCO scandal. There were hugs, handshakes and hearty applause for Fainaru-Wada and Williams--two men who face far more jail time than BALCO mastermind Victor Conte, who served four months in 2005.
Last year, at a reception in Washington, D.C., President Bush told the two reporters that they had "done a service" with their stories, some of which included confidential grand jury testimony by Bonds and other athletes. On Thursday a pair of Justice Department attorneys told U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White that Fainaru-Wada, 41, and Williams, 56, should face 18 months' imprisonment for civil contempt for defying a subpoena that ordered them to reveal their sources--an act that, as Fainaru-Wada said in a statement at the end of Thursday's three-hour hearing, "would be tossing aside everything that I believe as a journalist and a person of integrity." White was unmoved, ordering the co-authors of Game of Shadows (SI, March 13) to begin serving time in federal prison pending appeal. (The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear their case. Other possibilities for avoiding jail time include the passage of a shield law by Congress that would apply retroactively; a possible ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court if either side appeals the Ninth Circuit's decision; and if the source of the leaks is otherwise identified.)
As they wait to learn their fate, Fainaru-Wada and Williams are heartened by the support of their peers but dreading the prospect of imprisonment and the impact that might have on investigative journalism in the U.S. Those topics were discussed on Thursday night when they joined two dozen supporters--including Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, who organized the demonstration--at a bar. As a guitar-playing transvestite with a red wig belted out classic rock standards, the journalists vowed to hang tough in the face of a government that seems increasingly motivated to limit the ability of reporters to mine traditional sources of government information. "We're just beginning to fight," Telander said. "This is about everything we are as free Americans, and we will not be moved."