FBI criticizes News Sentinel for disclosing subpoena

I received a letter from the FBI today taking me to task for revealing that we had provided the agency with information in response to a subpoena.
We disclosed earlier this week that we had turned over to the FBI our records on an online commenter in response to a federal grand jury subpoena. The FBI is investigating threats against the defense attorneys in the Lemaricus Davidson case.
Special agent-in-charge Richard Lambert wrote:
“The FBI’s single greatest asset in preventing terrorism and fighting crime is the
assistance we receive from those we serve. Without the help of the American people, the FBI would fail miserably in its principal mission of gathering facts and collecting evidence. This partnership is especially crucial in investigations where the subject responsible for the crime is unknown, for much can be done by those close to the case in advancing or hindering the FBI’s investigative efforts. Prematurely disclosing the existence of an investigation or revealing the investigative techniques employed often alerts the perpetrator to law enforcement’s scrutiny and provides the opportunity for evidence concealment or destruction.
“In the current case involving threatening communications made to attorneys
representing a defendant in the Christian-Newsom murder trial, the FBI’s investigation into this matter was recently and prematurely exposed. In addition, the News Sentinel revealed yesterday the precise subject matter of a federal grand jury subpoena it received concerning this crime, citing the “newsworthiness” of this development and the absence of an explanation by the FBI as to why the subpoena’s secrecy was important.
“While the News Sentinel’s disclosure may indeed serve “the interest of transparency,” the revelations made to date may also provide the person or persons who committed the crime with the strategic knowledge necessary to now successfully frustrate this important investigation. This is the reason the United States Attorney’s Office asked the News
Sentinel not to disclose the issuance or substance of the subpoena.”
To be clear, the News Sentinel didn’t reveal the investigation. The defense attorneys did when they held a press conference. We did, however, disclose to our readers that, in connection with the investigation, we had turned over KnoxNews.com registration information that typically is kept secret.

14 thoughts on “FBI criticizes News Sentinel for disclosing subpoena

  1. Number9

    “To be clear, the News Sentinel didn’t reveal the investigation.”
    Good grief, first you refuse to cooperate with the FBI, then you say they are not truthful?
    How much of a hypocrite are you? There was no excuse for what you did. Selling newspapers is not more important than protecting Attorneys Trant and Eldridge. You should be ashamed. You have now eclipsed your prior worst behavior.

  2. joeparr2000

    …actually the defense attorneys let the cat out of the bag, number9….the fbi letter sounds like a warning to the KNS not to do the same thing next time…wonder if the attorneys received one too…

  3. Number9

    Do you plan to put this story on the front page? Or will you hide it here as you have since 11:31 am this morning?
    This is disrespectful to the readers you still have.

  4. Adam Smith

    It is clear to me that the FBI ask for the help of the KNS and did not get it. Situation ethics is the rule for you Jack. For you two wrongs make a right. I am sure if it involved you personally, the FBI would get your full cooperation. You have ruined our daily paper. Harry Moskos runs circles around you in creativity, ability and ethics. I blame E.W. Scripps for bringing your radical anti-establishment style to our town.

  5. 50 Cents Wasted

    Did you not lean on your lawyer to help you with a response to an FBI grand jury subpoena? If you’ll read the entire subpoena, you’ll see a disclosure not to contact the subjects of the subpoena and the need for a degree of confidentiality associated with grand jury proceedings.
    Where are your experienced law enforcement reporters? The existence of an ongoing investigation is extremely different from an actual prosecution and potential indictments coming down from a federal grand jury.
    Jack, your team stepped in it yet again with these “situational ethical lapses” and I wouldn’t be bothered if the FBI chose to prosecute the individuals who dropped the ball and publicized the receipt or the response to a federal grand jury subpoena.
    Transparency is a nice aspiration, but legal requirements to keep certain criminal processes confidential are a totally different set of circumstances and you would think Scripps would employ people with enough sophistication to know the difference. Maybe all of those people work at Scripps Networks now.

  6. Jack McElroy

    There was no legal requirement to keep the information confidential. The FBI asked us to keep it confidential in a letter separate from the subpoena. We cooperated with the FBI by providing the information it requested. We then were honest with our readers and online commenters by disclosing what we had done. We now will be publishing the FBI’s letter criticizing us for that.

  7. Ian Blackburn

    Oh, good heavens, nine. If the KNS *hadn’t* disclosed that they’d turned over comment-board registration info, you’d be frothing about some collusion with the FBI to subvert the constitutional rights of free American citizens.

  8. Number9

    “Oh, good heavens, nine. If the KNS *hadn’t* disclosed that they’d turned over comment-board registration info, you’d be frothing about some collusion with the FBI to subvert the constitutional rights of free American citizens.”
    That is asinine Ian. I fully expected McElroy to cooperate with the FBI. These are death threats. What part of that do you not comprehend?
    The hypocrisy of this is McElroy had a lot to do with why the death threats happened. I suppose you feel it was journalistically prudent to publish the picture of the alleged killer smiling with his attorneys on the front page of the paper? The death threats happened after that. For a guy who founded a local paper, the Metro Pulse, you have some funny ideas about journalism.
    If that was not enough McElroy comes back with an editorial titled, “Davidson photo stirred readers’ emotions”. And McElroy publishes the smiling killer picture yet again.
    What is more important, selling newspapers or protecting Trant and Eldridge?
    You may have missed the height of hypocrisy when the KNS published an editorial titled, “Defense attorney should not have to endure threats”. This is why yellow journalism should never be tolerated. This paper fanned the flames of hatred and then refused to cooperate with the FBI. It is unconscionable.

  9. Number9

    “Posted by: Jack McElroy at November 2, 2009 10:23 AM”
    “We now will be publishing the FBI’s letter criticizing us for that.”
    Today is Thursday. You said Monday you would publish the FBI letter today. Did you?

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