Jail For Barry Bonds Reporters: We All Lose

ByABC News
September 22, 2006, 7:19 AM

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 22, 2006 — -- Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams stood in front of the federal courthouse. Moments before, the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters had listened to a judge decide that they'd face jail time as a way of coercing their testimony.

They faced a wall of cameras and talked about the First Amendment and the importance of the press.

These words are being written in the sports department of the Chronicle, which opened its doors to out-of-town media in town for the legal proceedings. And there is a pall over the entire office.

A man stood near the back, anonymous. No one noticed that Michael Rains, Barry Bonds' attorney, had come to see rock bottom for the two men most responsible for exposing his client's alleged steroid use. Rains had tried to listen for the verdict on the radio and, like a lot of people in town, had been curious if the reporters would be ordered to do time. To him, there is no difference between them and Greg Anderson, Bonds' trainer, who is currently being jailed for his refusal to testify in front of a grand jury.

"Contempt is contempt," Rains said. "There shouldn't be preferential treatment because they claim to have a higher calling in life."

That's the question posed often by non-journalist friends of mine: Why should these two men have more protection than Anderson? What is the difference?

There is one. There is a difference between a steroids dealer who is covering for his friend and two hard-working journalists. Look, Anderson might be a very nice man. He certainly is a loyal friend. But he's hardly an innocent bystander in all of this. He did time for dealing harmful performance-enhancing drugs.

Mark and Lance? Their biggest mistake, it seems, was doing too good a job of exposing steroid use. Sure, their work got them a book deal and accolades. But it also got them 18 months. I've won journalism awards. They ain't worth 18 months.

These reporters were assigned a story, did it well and, in the process, sparked a national debate that did big things like teach kids about the danger of steroids and small things like help force a sport to clean up its act. In the end, those are the only relevant facts to me. They provided a public service, worked long hours, endured criticism and dead ends, pursuing the truth.