Sunday 16 June 2024

Journalist Says First Amendment In Jeopardy As He Faces Punishment Over Reporting On Covenant Shooter

 A Tennessee news executive says his First Amendment and due process rights are in jeopardy as he faces punishment over his publication of articles on the writings of the transgender-identifying shooter who killed six people at the Christian Covenant School in Nashville in March 2023. 

Tennessee Star Editor-in-Chief Michael Patrick Leahy was ordered to show up in Davidson County court on Monday for a contempt hearing after his outlet published multiple articles quoting from the writings of the woman who killed three children and three adults at The Covenant School on March 27, 2023. The articles quoted from the writings of the shooter, disclosing that it had obtained images of the full journal that was recovered by police at the scene of the shooting. 

In her order, Judge I’Ashea Myles said that Leahy must demonstrate why the “publication of certain purported documents” does not “violate the Orders of this Court subjecting them to contempt proceedings and sanctions.”

On Wednesday, Leahy’s legal team filed an emergency appeal in response arguing that Myles’ order endangers freedom of the press and violates his right to due process. The appeal, which has since been denied, argued that the hearing should be set aside because it violates Tennessee laws protecting reporters and rules on contempt proceedings. 

“Tennessee has enacted a robust media ‘shield law’ that protects reporters from being compelled to reveal any information—or the source of any information—procured for publication or broadcast,” the court filing says. “Such compulsion would also seriously undermine freedom of the press and news gathering generally.”

The Tennessee Star has not disclosed the details of how it obtained the documents, which is standard practice in the journalism profession.

On Friday, Axios reported that a retired Nashville police lieutenant has been singled out regarding the leak of records regarding the shooting investigation. Those records have been kept hidden from the public for more than a year. The lieutenant, Garet Davidson, has filed a whistleblower complaint regarding mismanagement at the department, and has appeared on Leahy’s Tennessee Star show in recent weeks.

Myles did not specify in her order what specific court orders she was referring to that might lead to Leahy and Star Digital Media being held in contempt. 

“By failing to identify the previous orders — or the provisions within them —  that this Court believes Mr. Leahy may have violated, though, this  Court’s Show Cause Order does not afford Mr. Leahy meaningful notice of the concerns that he is being ordered to address,” Leahy’s legal filing says. 

If Myles’ order did restrict Leahy “from publishing lawfully obtained documents to his readership,” that order is constitutionally suspect, the filing says. 

“None of this Court’s earlier orders appears — at least to the undersigned — to contemplate such a drastic restriction,” the filing says. “If this Court  interprets one of its earlier orders that way, though, then the order is a  prior restraint that suffers from serious constitutional infirmities and is  presumptively unconstitutional.”

For well over a year, Nashville police have refused to release the writings of the shooter arguing that the investigation into the shooting is ongoing. In response, there are two ongoing lawsuits, one against the FBI and the other against the city, pushing for the release of all the shooter’s writings.

On Wednesday, The Daily Wire published photos of the attacker’s journal obtained by a source familiar with the Covenant investigation. The entries show that she had a deep-seated hatred for Christianity and her parents for pushing back against her desire to identify as a male.

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