But media law experts say the First Amendment protects journalists’ possession and publication of truthful information in the public’s interest, regardless of how the information was released to them — and even trying to stop a reporter from publishing violates the U.S. Constitution.
“Yes, I get it that if some reporter gets some information that frankly they shouldn’t have gotten they’re going to report it. I get that, but I think it’s very important that somebody sticks up for that kid and that’s us,” Evers said Tuesday.
Hixenbaugh, the NBC News reporter, obtained records related to a child protective services case involving a former emergency room doctor at Children’s Wisconsin Hospital who has been charged with physical abuse of his newborn daughter. The reporter did not ultimately cite the records in his reporting.
The story includes details of the case, including information from medical records, and raises questions about whether the child was injured by an accident, rather than by abuse.
In the warning to NBC News over release of the case’s investigation file, the department cited a portion of state law that says a person who receives such information may not “further disclose it.” The department did not allege NBC News directly participated in the illegal release somehow and does not plan to pursue criminal charges.
“When the agency turns over records to parties under this statute, we are very forward with these warnings as a normal course of action,” Department spokesman Tom McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The letter we sent to NBC was to inform them of these laws and what may happen if they violate them, while also maintaining our duties.”
McCarthy said Tuesday the department did not intend to threaten prosecution with its letter to NBC News.