SPJ News Release
Thursday, Oct. 4, 2001
News editors, Business editors, Feature editors,
Photo editors, Assignment desks
Sarah A. Shrode, SPJ Director of Communications, 425/452-4846 or email@example.com
BELLEVUE, Wash. – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are shaking their heads in wonderment at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ refusal to let SPJ interview writer Vanessa Leggett in prison.
SPJ asked to videotape an interview with Leggett for presentation during the Legal Defense Fund Luncheon at the 2001 SPJ National Convention. Mike DeGeurin, attorney for the jailed writer, is scheduled to speak at the luncheon about Leggett’s legal case from noon to 1:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5, in the DoubleTree Hotel, Bellevue.
“This shows the pitfalls of the government trying to decide who is a journalist,” said SPJ President-Elect Al Cross, political columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Cross will become SPJ President Oct. 6. “The rights granted by the First Amendment belong to everyone, and the government has no business differentiating between citizens.”
According to a letter sent from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to SPJ Headquarters, the Society – which publishes a magazine, Quill, and a daily updated Web site – does not meet the requirements “which define the circumstances which much be met in order for an individual or organization to be considered a representative of the news media.”
“I could say I’m flabbergasted, but that doesn’t go far enough to describe this incredibly stupid decision,” said SPJ President Ray Marcano, an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News.
Leggett, who has been jailed since July 20, was found in contempt for refusing to hand over her notes, research, tape recordings and interview transcripts to a federal grand jury investigating the 1997 murder of a Houston millionaire’s wife. SPJ gave Leggett a $12,500 Legal Defense Fund Grant to cover half of her legal fees, capped at $25,000 by DeGeurin.
Leggett was conducting the research and interviews to complete a book manuscript on the slaying of Doris Angleton, wife of former bookie Robert Angleton. Robert Angleton and his brother, Roger, were charged with capital murder in the case.
Before his trial in 1998, Roger Angleton committed suicide in the Harris County Jail, leaving behind a note claiming that he was solely responsible for his sister-in-law's slaying. Leggett interviewed Roger Angleton while he was in jail.
SPJ said individuals who are engaged in the practice of gathering information for dissemination to the general public should be free to gather and report without fear of becoming an arm of the government.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.